A new study of the number of global deaths caused by viral hepatitis has found that the infection is more deadly than HIV and tuberculosis (TB).
The findings, published in the medical journal The Lancet, show that deaths from viral hepatitis rose by more than 60 percent from 1990 to 2013, according to the BBC.
Over the same period, viral hepatitis rose from the tenth most common cause of death to the seventh.
There are five different types of the virus, known as A, B, C, D and E. Types B and C are the deadliest variants around the world.
In 2013, there were 1.45 million deaths globally from viral hepatitis, 1.3 million from AIDS and 1.5 million from TB.
“Although there are effective treatments and vaccines for viral hepatitis, there is very little money invested in getting these to patients -- especially compared to malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB,” Dr. Graham Cooke of Imperial College London told the BBC.
Deaths from the virus were greater in higher-income countries than in underdeveloped ones, even though drugs exist to cure viral hepatitis within 12 weeks.
A new drug to treat Hepatitis C in the U.S. costs around $85,000, and many insurance plans will not cover the cost.
Another problem is that hepatitis can develop for years without any symptoms. This means that in the absence of screening programs, it can easily go unnoticed.
In Egypt, which has one of the highest rates of hepatitis C infection, around 15 percent of the total population is infected.
“I think we all felt that hepatitis had been neglected for some time, and I think part of that was a failure to recognize how important it was,” Cooke added to NPR. “I don’t think we expected it to be figuring quite so high in the relative rankings.”
The World Health Organization announced a target earlier this year of reducing hepatitis B and C infections by 30 percent by 2020.