General practitioners urged to test for viral hepatitis in all patients with liver abnormalities

Caspar Thomson
29 July 2013
Prof. Peck-Radosavlevic, EASL Secretary General; Angelika Widhalm, chairwoman HAA; Silvia Wogowitsch, chairwoman of the association for liver transplantation in Austria; Prof. Gabriele Moser, gastroenterologist and psychotherapist, Medical University Vienna; Dr Stefan Dorner, Vice President of the Vienna Hospital Association.

General practitioners in Europe need to be more alert for possible signs of viral hepatitis and test patients accordingly, the spokesperson for Europe’s liver disease specialists said on Friday.

Speaking at a press conference in Vienna organised by Hepatitis Hilfe Österreich (Hepatitis Aid Austria), Professor Markus Peck-Radosavljevic, Secretary General of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), emphasised the importance of screening for viral hepatitis in all patients with liver enzyme abnormalities.

“Since all chronic liver diseases for many years only display elevated liver enzymes, the most important step from a medical point of view is that all patients, even those with moderate elevation of liver enzymes, are evaluated for the cause of liver enzyme elevation, which includes testing for viral hepatitis.”

Without early diagnosis of viral hepatitis, persistent infection may lead to severe liver damage over several decades. Early diagnosis of viral hepatitis and referral to specialised medical care are essential, Professor Peck-Radosavljevic said.

He also underlined the importance of achieving “a fair price” for new hepatitis C therapies in order to permit universal access to hepatitis C treatment in Europe.

Austrian advocates call for national strategic plan

Hepatitis Hilfe Österreich (Hepatitis Aid Austria) chair Angelika Widhalm called for the development of a national strategy to combat viral hepatitis in Austria.

Approximately 200,000 people in Austria have chronic hepatitis B or C, according to Hepatitis Aid Austria. Throughout the European region approximately 23 million are infected with hepatitis B or C.

The Euro Hepatitis Index revealed deficiencies in Austria’s response to hepatitis in the areas of public awareness, prevention, early detection and early treatment of hepatitis. Austria was ranked fifteenth in a comparison of hepatitis responses in the 27 member states of the European Union. First place in the Euro Hepatitis Index was awarded to France, followed by Slovenia and Germany.

"France managed top position because of its strategic national co-ordination when it comes to defense against hepatitis,“ said Angelika Widhalm of Hepatitis Hilfe Österreich. “France is the only country in Europe – apart from a regional initiative in Scotland – that has a nationwide plan for hepatitis that covers all aspects of prevention, treatment and monitoring. This central co-ordination enables them to combine the otherwise isolated actions of doctors, patient organisations and other participants in France to their fullest potential."

Hepatitis Hilfe Österreich is demanding a national strategic plan for prevention and early detection. In particular, general practitioners should be trained in the importance of early diagnosis of viral hepatitis.

Public awareness campaigns should also address myths about viral hepatitis transmission in order to reduce stigma and discrimination caused by fear of the disease. Furthermore the rights of people living with hepatitis should be protected through legislation that protects against discrimination in health care, housing, employment and other settings, Hepatitis Hilfe Österreich urged.

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