Hepatitis B and C Remain a Neglected Epidemic in America

About 15,000 disease-related deaths a year; funding for prevention woefully inadequate

TUESDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- Lack of awareness about the extent of hepatitis B and C infection, not just among the public but also among health care professionals, is undermining efforts to combat the diseases, according to research published online Feb. 22 in Hepatology.

Abigail E. Mitchell, Ph.D., of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and colleagues write that chronic hepatitis B and C infection affects about 1 to 2 percent of the American population at any given time, and about 15,000 people a year die from liver cancer or other liver diseases related to hepatitis B and C.

When they looked at the factors that could reduce the incidence of the two infections, the researchers found that a lack of awareness about, and knowledge of, hepatitis B and C, among health care workers as well as social services providers and the general public, is the single biggest impediment to prevention, and this knowledge gap has resulted in inadequate funding to combat the diseases.

"Better disease surveillance, improved provider and community education, and integrated, enhanced and accessible viral hepatitis services are needed to combat the spread of these diseases," Mitchell said in a statement. "Implementations of our recommendations would lead to reduction in new hepatitis B and C infections, fewer medical complications and deaths related to chronic viral hepatitis, as well as lower total health costs."

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