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Four in five hepatitis B patients are undiagnosed, study finds

Four out of five patients with hepatitis B are undiagnosed in the UK, according to a new study assessing the global prevalence, treatment and prevention of the infection.

The research, published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, also found that three quarter of those eligible for treatment are not receiving it.

The modelling study, which included a literature review as well as expert interviews and a progression model to estimate the country and regional-level prevalence, estimated that globally 3·9% of the population had the infection in 2016.

However, researchers highlighted that only 10% of those were diagnosed and just 5% of the 94m individuals eligible for treatment, actually received antiviral therapy.

While the UK performed higher than other countries such as Spain and Portugal, the team saw that still only 19% of suspected cases of the infection were diagnosed and just 25% of eligible patients were receiving treatment.

Other European countries like Greece, the Netherlands, and Finland performed much better, with 42%, 51% and 66% diagnoses respectively. 

The paper said: 'Although some regions are well on their way to meeting prophylaxis and prevalence targets, all regions must substantially scale-up access to diagnosis and treatment to meet the global targets.'

Study author Dr Razavi commented: 'We have all the tools necessary to eliminate HBV. Our estimates highlight an enormous opportunity for effective screening, diagnosis, and treatment to substantially reduce the numbers of new infections in all countries by 2030.

'But we must accelerate efforts across the board. We hope this work will be the catalyst to support national strategies to eliminate the virus by 2030—which 194 countries have pledged to do.'

Last year a new vaccine which included protection against hepatitis B was added to the UK infant vaccination schedule.

Despite WHO recommending that such a vaccine should be available for all babies since 1992, this was the first time that a hepatitis B vaccine was offered across the infant group in the UK, as it had previously been deemed not cost-effective.

However, within a month of this announcement GPs were informed by Public Health England that practices could not order the adult Hepatitis B vaccine ‘until further notice’ due to a global shortage which impacted UK supplies.

 

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