Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections affect the liver and the acute infection may become chronic hepatitis disease, with very serious potential consequences on the liver such as cirrhosis or liver cancer that can be challenging to treat and may require liver transplant or lead to death.
Current transmission of hepatitis in Europe occurs sexually or via injecting drug use through the sharing of injection equipment, with nosocomial (i.e. hospital) transmission remaining a key reported route of transmission in a few countries.
Viral hepatitis continues to have a serious disease burden in the EU. As hepatitis is mostly asymptomatic until there is serious damage to the liver, it is dubbed ‘the silent killer’, making it difficult to gauge the exact breadth of the epidemic. Testing and early diagnosis is therefore important, especially amongst at-risk groups such as people who inject drugs, prisoners, migrants from high endemic countries and men who have sex with men.
While for hepatitis B, effective antiviral treatment does exist, there is currently no permanent cure. However, there is a vaccine and most European countries have a universal infant vaccination programme in place with high levels of coverage. For hepatitis C there is currently no vaccine, but there is a very effective treatment available which provides a cure for the patient.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), estimates indicate that around 4.7 million people in the EU/EEA are chronically infected with hepatitis B and 3.9 million with hepatitis C.