New research shows indigenous peoples are much more likely to be infected by hepatitis B and/or C

August 9, 2017
A microscopic image of the Hepatitis B virus, taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A new meta-analysis of global hepatitis data—presented at this year's World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Viral Hepatitis in Anchorage, Alaska, USA (8-9 August)—shows that Indigenous Peoples are up to 10 times more likely to be infected by viral hepatitis than the general population in their respective countries. The analysis is presented by Dr Homie Razavi and Devin Razavi-Shearer, The Polaris Observatory, Lafayette, CO, USA.

Both B and hepatitis C are viral infections, which, if left untreated, can cause serious liver damage, liver cancer, and ultimately death. Both can be transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person, sexual transmission, injection drug use, unsafe medical procedures and tattooing where equipment has not been sterilised. Hepatitis B is also commonly sexually transmitted.. For hepatitis C, people who received a blood transfusion before 1992 when universal blood screening practices were introduced in most high-income countries, are also at risk.

An estimated 71 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C infection; for hepatitis B the numbers are higher at 257 million. Most people with hepatitis B virus are adults infected before the hepatitis B vaccine became widely available.

In this new research, the authors reviewed prevalence of both viruses in the Indigenous Peoples and general populations of North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. For hepatitis C, data that could be extrapolated to the general population was found for 11 countries and included 23 specific Indigenous Peoples and nations as well as 12 more broad groupings, covering the period from 1991 onwards.

The data showed that, compared to general populations in their countries:

  • Hepatitis C rates among Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders are 3 times higher
  • In Canada, the Inuit and Métis First Nations Canadians also have rates 3 times higher
  • In New Zealand, the data were insufficient to produce reliable estimates
  • In the continental USA, American Indian tribal citizens overall had rates 2.5 times higher
  • In Alaska, there was no statistically significant difference in the rate of hepatitis C in Alaskan natives.

The authors say: "The higher prevalence of anti-HCV observed in Indigenous Peoples and nations can be the result of disproportionately high rates of poverty, injection drug use, and incarceration in Iindigenous populationsPopulations. This, in combination with the lack of access to healthcare and prevention measures, greatly increases the risk and thus prevalence of hepatitis C."

For hepatitis B, prevalence was reviewed among Indigenous Peoples and nations of North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. Data that is suitable for extrapolation was found for 13 countries and included 106 specific Indigenous Peoples and nations as well as 22 more broad groupings.

The data showed that, compared with their respective general populations:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders in Australia were 4 times more likely to have hepatitis B infection
  • Maori and Pacific Islander populations in New Zealand had double the rates of hepatitis B
  • Canadian First Nations Inuit and Metis peoples had an even higher disparity, with hepatitis B rates five times higher

While USA Alaskan native populations had rates of hepatitis B 10 times that of general population (the largest disparity found), the studies included did not take into account universal hepatitis B vaccination in that state that has almost wiped out new infections in young people, and this will have brought down overall hepatitis B prevalence in recent years

The authors add that today, hepatitis B vaccination rates are similar among Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people across the USA.

The authors say: "The distribution of the prevalence of hepatitis B varies greatly among different indigenous Peoples and nations, and in some Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon it has been reported that the prevalence can even vary drastically by village. The disparities in access to healthcare, prevention, and treatment in particular have continued to reinforce the prevalence, morbidity and mortality disparities that are seen."

Raquel Peck, Chief Executive of the World Hepatitis Alliance, London, UK, said: "These data confirm that Indigenous Peoples worldwide are bearing a disproportionately high burden of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or both. More must be done to ensure that Indigenous Peoples everywhere are at the heart of hepatitis treatment and prevention programs."

Explore further: Vaccination succeeds in dramatically reducing hepatitis B in NSW Aboriginal women

Related Stories

Vaccination succeeds in dramatically reducing hepatitis B in NSW Aboriginal women

April 19, 2017
There has been a significant reduction in hepatitis B virus in Aboriginal women giving birth in NSW, with the decline linked to the introduction of the state's newborn vaccination program.

Around 9 million Europeans are affected by chronic hepatitis B or C

July 26, 2017
An estimated 4.7 million Europeans are living with chronic hepatitis B and almost 4 million (3.9) with chronic hepatitis C infection. However, large numbers of them are not even aware of their infection as they have not yet ...

Cases of hepatitis B and C hit 325 million: WHO

April 21, 2017
An estimated 325 million people are living with hepatitis B or C and few are aware of their condition, with death tolls from the viruses rising, the UN said Friday.

Hepatitis C nearly triples in US in 5 years

May 11, 2017
The number of hepatitis C infections have nearly tripled in the United States in the last five years, particularly among people in their 20s, researchers said Thursday.

Latest research shows Australia on track to cure hepatitis C

February 21, 2017
More Australians have been treated for hepatitis C in the past 12 months than the last decade combined, following the listing of a new generation therapy on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Hepatitis B and C may be linked to increased risk of Parkinson's disease

March 29, 2017
The viruses hepatitis B and C may both be associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease, according to a study published in the March 29, 2017, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy ...

Recommended for you

New test differentiates between Lyme disease, similar illness

August 16, 2017
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. But it can be confused with similar conditions, including Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. A team of researchers led by Colorado ...

Addressing superbug resistance with phage therapy

August 16, 2017
International research involving a Monash biologist shows that bacteriophage therapy – a process whereby bacterial viruses attack and destroy specific strains of bacteria - can be used successfully to treat systemic, multidrug ...

Can previous exposure to west Nile alter the course of Zika?

August 15, 2017
West Nile virus is no stranger to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of people in the region have contracted the mosquito-borne virus in the past. But could this previous exposure affect how intensely Zika sickens someone ...

Compounds in desert creosote bush could treat giardia and 'brain-eating' amoeba infections

August 15, 2017
Researchers at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that compounds produced by the creosote bush, a ...

New malaria analysis method reveals disease severity in minutes

August 11, 2017
Left untreated, malaria can progress from being mild to severe—and potentially fatal—in 24 hours. So researchers at the University of British Columbia developed a method to quickly and sensitively assess the progression ...

Drug trial shows promise for deadly neurological disorder

August 10, 2017
Results of a small clinical trial show promise for treating a rare neurodegenerative condition that typically kills those afflicted before they reach age 20. The disease, called Niemann-Pick type C (NPC), causes cholesterol ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.