One-third of world has hepatitis: WHO report

World Health Organization
The World Health Organization hopes posters like these will help raise awareness of hepatitis
World Health Organization

(CBS) Hepatitis takes a huge toll on health. More than two billion people - roughly one-third of the entire world population - is infected with one of the viruses that causes the potentially deadly liver disease, according to a new estimate from the World Health Organization.

Tragically, most people infected with one of the viruses that cause hepatitis don't know they're infected. That increases the risk that they will unwittingly transmit the virus to other people.

And if regular folks don't understand much about the risks posed by hepatitis, neither do politicians.

"This is a chronic disease across the whole world, but unfortunately there is very little awareness, even among health policy-makers, of its extent," Steven Wiersma, a hepatitis specialist with the organization, said at a press conference, Reuters reported.

What does everyone need to know about hepatitis?

There are five main viruses capable of causing hepatitis, which doctors designate using the letters A, B, C, D, and E. The viruses causes different symptoms and spread in different ways, including via contaminated water and food as well as blood and semen. Hepatitis B and C are particularly worrisome, as they can lead to chronic disease and are the most common causes of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The CDC has more on hepatitis.