Background: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a leading cause of chronic liver disease, end-stage cirrhosis, and liver cancer, but little is known about the burden of disease caused by the virus. We summarised burden of disease data presently available for Europe, compared the data to current expert estimates, and identified areas in which better data are needed.
Methods: Literature and international health databases were systematically searched for HCV-specific burden of disease data, including incidence, prevalence, mortality, disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs), and liver transplantation. Data were collected for the WHO European region with emphasis on 22 countries. If HCV-specific data were unavailable, these were calculated via HCV-attributable fractions.
Results: HCV-specific burden of disease data for Europe are scarce. Incidence data provided by national surveillance are not fully comparable and need to be standardised. HCV prevalence data are often inconclusive. According to available data, an estimated 7.3-8.8 million people (1.1-1.3%) are infected in our 22 focus countries. HCV-specific mortality, DALY, and transplantation data are unavailable. Estimations via HCV-attributable fractions indicate that HCV caused more than 86000 deaths and 1.2 million DALYs in the WHO European region in 2002. Most of the DALYs (95%) were accumulated by patients in preventable disease stages. About one-quarter of the liver transplants performed in 25 European countries in 2004 were attributable to HCV.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that hepatitis C is a major health problem and highlight the importance of timely antiviral treatment. However, data on the burden of disease of hepatitis C in Europe are scarce, outdated or inconclusive, which indicates that hepatitis C is still a neglected disease in many countries. What is needed are public awareness, co-ordinated action plans, and better data. European physicians should be aware that many infections are still undetected, provide timely testing and antiviral treatment, and avoid iatrogenic transmission.