The hepatitis B virus (HBV) contributes to approximately 820,000 deaths every year. The virus attacks a person’s liver and causes chronic disease. There are safe and effective vaccines that can prevent the condition.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) explains that these deaths occur mostly from primary liver cancer and cirrhosis.

For most individuals, HBV is a short-term condition that causes no permanent damage.

However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) states that a long-term infection with HBV or hepatitis C is the most common risk factor for liver cancer.

Additionally, a 2020 study also suggests that HBV infection accounts for over 30% of cirrhosis and 50% of liver cancer cases worldwide.

HBV is a major global health concern. However, there are safe and effective vaccines that can prevent HBV and reduce the risk of complications.

This article discusses HVB mortality rates, risk factors, prevention, and more.

Illustrations of Earth, a liver, and a vaccine, representing the mortality rate of hepatitis B. Share on Pinterest
Infographic by Bailey Mariner

In 2019, HVB resulted in an estimated 820,000 deaths worldwide, according to the WHO.

In 2020, experts identified 11,635 new cases of chronic HVB, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Additionally, the rate of chronic HBV infection was 12 times higher among Asian/Pacific Islander people in 2020 than among non-Hispanic white people.

However, since many HBV infections go undiagnosed, estimates of those living with Hep B can vary. For example, estimates the figure in the United States is between 880,000 and 1.89 million.

WHO estimates that 296 million individuals were living with chronic HBV infection in 2019, with 1.5 million new cases each year.

Cases of acute HBV infection have also increased due to the opioid crisis.

Share on Pinterest
Infographic by Bailey Mariner

There has been progress in reducing HBV-related deaths since the World Health Assembly adopted a strategy to reduce mortality rates by 65%.

Between 2017 and 2019, the age-adjusted HBV-related mortality rate decreased from 0.46 per 100,000 population to 0.42.

By 2025, there needs to be a further reduction of 11.9% to decrease the mortality rates from 0.42 to 0.37 deaths per 100,000 population.

The CDC advises that governmental bodies take these steps to achieve the reduction:

  • increasing access to testing
  • increasing access to care and appropriate treatment
  • developing training tools for primary care and other healthcare professionals
  • implementing digital technology and telemedicine models to expand access to specialty healthcare providers
  • developing innovative and useful clinical decision-support tools
  • conducting cost-benefit analyses to improve payer policies
  • supporting research and development for new and more effective antiviral therapies

Implementing the measures above can lead to improved access, screening, and preventive care for HBV.

Individuals with a high risk of HBV include:

  • the infants of mothers with HBV
  • the sexual partners of people with HBV
  • people who have multiple sexual partners, as well as those who engage in sexual intercourse without barrier methods such as condoms
  • men who have sexual intercourse with men
  • people who inject illegal drugs
  • individuals who share a household with a person who has a chronic HBV infection
  • healthcare and emergency responders who are at risk of occupational exposure to the blood or bodily fluids of those with HBV
  • people receiving hemodialysis
  • people taking medications that suppress the immune system, such as chemotherapy for cancer
  • people with HIV
  • those who come from a region with a high incidence of HBV
  • people who have been in prison

A safe and effective vaccine offers 98–100% protection against HBV.

A person can also prevent their risk of HBV infection by:

  • wearing appropriate protective equipment when working in a healthcare environment or dealing with medical emergencies
  • not sharing needles
  • using condoms or other barrier methods during sex
  • cleaning any blood spills or dried blood with gloved hands

Below are answers to some common questions about HBV.

Which hepatitis has the highest mortality?

A 2017 review suggests that 96% of hepatitis deaths are due to chronic HBV and hepatitis C.

Both viruses can cause chronic, lifelong infections resulting in progressive liver damage leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

In the Americas, more than 125,000 deaths each year have a link to viral hepatitis. Of these, 99% are due to hepatitis B and C.

How long can you live with HBV?

Chronic HBV is not curable, but a person living with the condition can expect to live a long and healthy life. An individual can manage their health by consulting a doctor regularly for treatment and monitoring.

Treatment includes medication, such as oral antiviral agents. Treatment can also slow the progression of cirrhosis and can reduce the incidence of liver cancer to improve long-term survival.

People with HBV can also eat well and avoid alcohol and tobacco to help maintain their liver health.

Learn more about HBV treatment.

Why is HBV fatal?

HBV is not always deadly, but it can be fatal. This is because a person with chronic HBV may develop acute liver failure, where the liver suddenly fails.

An individual who has developed acute liver failure might need a liver transplant to recover.

Chronic HBV may also lead to several other life threatening conditions, including:

  • reactivated HBV, where previously resolved HBV returns
  • cirrhosis
  • liver cancer

HBV is a serious liver condition that can be potentially life threatening. It contributes to approximately 820,000 deaths every year. The condition can cause chronic infection and puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Chronic HBV infection is treatable with medication, including oral antiviral agents. Treatment can also slow the progression of cirrhosis and can reduce the incidence of liver cancer to improve long-term survival.

A vaccine for HBV offers 98–100% protection against the condition.