BACKGROUND: Viral hepatitis with various forms of acute and chronic liver disease as potential and ultimately fatal sequelae presents a public health problem worldwide. METHODS: Recent published reports on the global epidemiology and prophylaxis of viral hepatitis were reviewed. RESULTS: With the advances in novel technologies, eight distinct types of hepatitis virus have been described: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, G, TT and SEN viruses. Hepatitis A and E viruses are transmitted by the fecal-oral route and do not induce a chronic carrier state. Due to major changes in epidemiology of hepatitis A virus their significance is more pronounced in areas of intermediate endemicity. Since the available hepatitis A vaccine is rather expensive, cost-benefit studies should be performed with emphasis on the area under consideration or specialized vulnerable groups. Parenterally transmitted hepatitis B and C viruses are major causes of chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma and end-stage liver failure. Hepatitis D virus is unable to replicate on its own, it requires an established hepatitis B virus infection to be able to replicate. Since its introduction, hepatitis B vaccine has been widely used leading to a significant decrease in HBV infection in countries with universal vaccination. Hepatitis G and TT viruses have been characterized within the latter part of the past decade but their significance as to the causation of human liver disease has yet to be elucidated. Likewise, the precise impact of the most recently described SEN virus isolated from patients with post-transfusion hepatitis awaits further studies. CONCLUSIONS: In the course of this review, we present the situation and focus on research activities emphasizing epidemiology and prevention of the various forms of viral hepatitis.
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