Worldwide, the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and the hepatitis C virus (HCV) cause, respectively, 600,000 and 350,000 deaths each year. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer, which in turn ranks as the third cause of cancer death worldwide. Within the WHO European region, approximately 14 million people are chronically infected with HBV, and nine million people are chronically infected with HCV. Lack of reliable epidemiological data on HBV and HCV is one of the biggest hurdles to advancing policy. Risk groups such as migrants and injecting drug users (IDU) tend to be under-represented in existing prevalence studies; thus, targeted surveillance is urgently needed to correctly estimate the burden of HBV and HCV. The most effective means of prevention against HBV is vaccination, and most European Union (EU) countries have universal vaccination programmes. For both HBV and HCV, screening of individuals who present a high risk of contracting the virus is critical given the asymptomatic, and thereby silent, nature of disease. Screening of migrants and IDUs has been shown to be effective and potentially cost-effective. There have been significant advances in the treatment of HCV and HBV in recent years, but health care professionals remain poorly aware of treatment options. Greater professional training is needed on the management of hepatitis including the treatment of liver cancer to encourage adherence to guidelines and offer patients the best possible outcomes. Viral hepatitis knows no borders. EU Member States, guided by the EU, need to work in a concerted manner to implement lasting, effective policies and programmes and make tackling viral hepatitis a public health priority.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.