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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cases of Hepatitis B and C Are Surging

The number of cases of hepatitis B and C has more than doubled to 7 million over the past decade, and many of the patients contracted the virus through intravenous drug use and unprotected sex, health officials and lawmakers said Monday.

More than 5 million people carry hepatitis B, about 2 1/2 times more than the 2 million registered in 1992, while 2 million people have hepatitis C, Tatyana Yakovleva, the deputy head of the State Duma's health and sports committee, said Monday, citing Health Ministry statistics.

Yakovleva said 90 percent of all new cases are young people between the ages of 15 to 30 who contracted the virus through unsafe sex or drugs.

"If problems such as drug addiction and a low awareness of safe sex cannot be resolved within a few years, the only way to stop a hepatitis epidemic will be through preventative means such as vaccinations," she told reporters.

She said the government should make free vaccines available to children, teenagers and those who are at risk of contracting the disease at work. Vaccinations cost 100 rubles ($3.15) for children and 180 rubles for adults, she said.

Vasily Uchaikin, the Health Ministry's chief specialist in infectious diseases, said hepatitis vaccines are given to only about 58 percent of newborn babies.

Hepatitis B and C, which can seriously damage the liver, spread through infected blood or sexual contact.

Hepatitis A is a milder form of the virus which is easily treatable, and it is transmitted by infected food or water.

Symptoms of hepatitis B and C are flu-like and include severe fever, jaundice and abdominal pain.

A key difference between hepatitis B and C is how the viruses mutate. Both viruses mutate in the body, but the hepatitis C virus mutates so often that the body ends up fighting many different strains of the virus. Therefore, it is harder for the body to fight hepatitis C than hepatitis B.

Vaccines for hepatitis A and B are readily available, and at least three Russian factories produce them. There is no hepatitis C vaccine.

Uchaikin said vaccinations would be only one step toward preventing the disease.

Another would be revamping a medical system in which a number of people inadvertently contract hepatitis while being treated or examined for other ailments, he said.

Such cases account for a staggering 10 percent of hepatitis C infections, he said.

Uchaikin said up to 70 percent of patients who require regular blood transfusions end up contracting hepatitis B or C.

In an attempt to prevent the spread of the infections in clinics, the Duma's health committee is drafting a health care bill that stresses the protection of patients' rights, Yakovleva said.

Some 300 million to 400 million people carry the hepatitis B virus worldwide, and almost 250,000 die every year, according to the World Health Organization.

About 170 million people, some 3 percent of the world's population, are infected with hepatitis C, the WHO said.