A brief history of hepatitis milestones

Liver Int. 2014 Feb;34 Suppl 1:29-37. doi: 10.1111/liv.12409.


Hepatitis has been a major plague of mankind. The history of the discovery of causative viruses is one of the most fascinating scientific adventures of this half century. Individualization of several types of hepatitis only emerged after world war two. Their identification has been associated with milestones which revolutionized medicine and public health. The discovery of HBV brought the first ever vaccine not prepared by tissue culture but initially directly from plasma and soon the first vaccine produced by genetic engineering. HBV vaccine proved to be the first "anti-cancer" vaccine by preventing hepatocellular carcinoma and practically eradicating it from childhood in Taiwan. Successful vaccines became also available for HAV and more recently HEV. The discovery of HCV in 1989 opened a new era since it was the first virus was identified by a direct molecular approach. Two billion people are infected with HBV and 350 million are chronic carriers of the virus. The extraordinary effectiveness of HBV vaccination was best illustrated in Taiwan and Singapore where in less than 2 decades HBs Ag carriers dropped from 9,1% to 2,7% and HCC from 27% to 17%. Successful development of nucleos(t)ides analogs make it now possible to fully control disease progression with a daily pill long term therapy. The progress in HCV therapy has been even more spectacular and successful treatment jumped from 6 % with interferon alone in 1986 to more than 80% in 2013 with triple combination therapies. Remarkably chronic hepatitis C is the only chronic disease which is curable. It will be soon possible to eradicate HCV infection with, an all oral, daily single pill (containing several molecules) for 3 to 6 months which will cure over 90% of patients. This unprecedented therapeutic victory benefiting hundred millions of people matches the triumphs over small pox, polio and tuberculosis. The next 10 years should undoubtedly witness cure or full control over all forms of acute and chronic hepatitis.

Keywords: Antivirals; HAV; HCV; HDV; Hepatitis B; Hepatitis C; History; Interferon; Liver; Nucleoside analogs; Vaccine.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Eradication / trends*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / methods*
  • Hepatitis / classification*
  • Hepatitis / drug therapy
  • Hepatitis / history*
  • Hepatitis / prevention & control*
  • Hepatitis Viruses*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Viral Hepatitis Vaccines / history*


  • Viral Hepatitis Vaccines