Simple blood test offers hope to hepatitis patients

blood testFrom MOMODOU DIBBA in Banjul, Gambia
BANJUL – A blood test worth $20 could be the universal remedy to diagnose thousands of patients with hepatitis B and in need of treatment in some of Africa’s poorest regions.

Researchers have developed an accurate diagnostic score that consists of inexpensive blood tests to identify patients who require immediate treatment against the deadly virus that can lead to liver damage or cancer.

The score consists of two simple blood tests: one measuring presence of antigens, proteins produced by the virus, and another for enzymes produced by the liver in response, to accurately assess patients for treatment.

The score was found to be as accurate as existing methods for identifying the patients in need of immediate treatment but at a fraction of the cost, $20 compared to $100-$500 for current tests.

It is also far more accessible than existing methods such as liver biopsy or HBV DNA, a much more complicated blood sample analysis, which requires resources and laboratories that are not always accessible in sub-Saharan Africa.

Researchers from Imperial College London and Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, collaborating with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and other African and European institutions, used data from hundreds of hepatitis B patients in The Gambia.

Dr Maud Lemoine, co-author of the study, said the results showed that this simple and inexpensive test could be an accurate way to diagnoses patients in need of hepatitis B treatment in countries with limited resources.

“This could potentially help diagnose and subsequently treat thousands of people across Africa,” Lemoine said.

Yusuke Shimakawa from the Pasteur Institute, who is co-author, said once results are validated by further studies, they could be potentially integrated into the World Health Organisation guidelines and local guidelines and implemented in daily practice.

“There is great potential to diagnose more people and improve access to treatment,” Shimakawa said.

In 2013, an estimated 1.45 million people died from viral hepatitis.

It is the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. About half of deaths are attributable to the hepatitis B virus infection.

The hepatitis B virus infects around 250 million people worldwide, and is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids.

Sub-Saharan Africa, with around 80 million people are infected, is the worst affected.
– CAJ News

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