Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Why in News?
- Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice and British scientist Michael Houghton were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
About their discovery
- The Hepatitis C virus was found in 1982 after screening millions of DNA samples.
- Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV).
- Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact. HCV is among the most common blood-borne viral infections.
- The trio’s work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses.
- Their work make possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives
- Due to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health
- Hepatitis refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver. Usually caused by a viral infection, but there exists other possible causes of hepatitis which are autoimmune responses, medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol.
- There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D, and E.
- Liver inflammation, or hepatitis, a combination of the Greek words for liver and inflammation, is mainly caused by viral infections, although alcohol abuse, environmental toxins and autoimmune disease are also important causes.
- The first, named hepatitis A, is transmitted by polluted water or food and generally has little long-term impact on the patient. The second type is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids and represents a much more serious threat since it can lead to a chronic condition, with the development of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- This form of hepatitis is insidious, as otherwise healthy individuals can be silently infected for many years before serious complications arise.
- Blood-borne hepatitis is associated with significant morbidity and mortality, and causes more than a million deaths per year world-wide, thus making it a global health concern on a scale comparable to HIV-infection and tuberculosis.
- Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
India and Hepatitis
- In India, as per latest estimates, 40 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B and six to 12 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C. HEV is the most important cause of epidemic hepatitis, though HAV is more common among children. Most acute liver failures diagnosed are attributable to HEV.
- In India, viral hepatitis is now recognized as a serious public health problem. It places a huge disease, social and economic burden on the affected individual, family, as well as the health system.
- The National Viral Hepatitis Control Program has been launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India on the occasion of World Hepatitis Day, 28th July 2018. It is an integrated initiative for the prevention and control of viral hepatitis in India to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.3 which aims to end viral hepatitis by 2030. This is a comprehensive plan covering the entire gamut from Hepatitis A, B, C, D & E, and the whole range from prevention, detection and treatment to mapping treatment outcomes. The program is the largest program for Hepatitis B and C diagnosis and treatment in the world.
- Hepatitis B is included under India’s Universal Immunization Programme (UIP)
- Recently, India’s first genetically engineered vaccine against hepatitis B [SHANVAC-B] developed by Hyderabad-based Shantha Biotechnics, an Indo-Oman joint venture, has been marketed for the immunisation of infants, children and adults against hepatitis B infection.
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