"Parenteral" or "serum" hepatitis is known to have afflicted man for centuries. However, it was not until the mid-1960s that the causative agent of this infection, the hepatitis B virus, was discovered. Since then, the biology and the replication strategy of the virus, and the clinical features and the epidemiology of the hepatitis B infection have been determined. Knowledge about the virus and the infection it causes led to the development of firstly, a plasma-derived vaccine and later a recombinant vaccine for the prevention of the infection. Integration of the hepatitis B vaccine into newborn vaccination programmes on a worldwide basis represents a major step in the effort to eliminate this infectious disease and its complications. Laboratory tests are available for the diagnosis and monitoring of the disease. Therapies have been developed to halt the progress of the chronic infection in affected individuals. While these developments have resulted in a decrease of the frequency of infection in many countries, particularly those that have implemented universal immunization of newborns, the chronic infection remains a significant global problem. Worldwide, over 300 million individuals are infected and each year, an estimated 1 million persons die from chronic complications of the disease including hepatocellular carcinoma and hepatic failure. The therapies currently available result in elimination of the virus in only a relatively small proportion of subjects and carry with it serious side effects. Geopolitical, economic and other factors hinder the vision of elimination of the infection through immunization programmes. Nevertheless, work continues to clarify further the underlying pathological mechanism of the infection, the host and viral factors that promote elimination or persistence of the virus in the human host. It is hoped that such investigations will reveal viral targets for the design of newer and potentially more effective drugs to treat the infection.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.