Chen made the remarks during a presentation of his work to the Academicians’ Conference on Tuesday last week, saying that the extension of Taiwanese life expectancy and environmental changes are likely to increase the relative health impacts of liver diseases.
According to Chen, studies have shown that lipids in alcohol can accumulate in the liver, leading to alcoholic hepatitis and fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis and a heightened risk of liver cancer.
The prevalence of alcoholic hepatitis among Taiwanese is increasing every year, he said.
Viral infection is the most common cause of hepatitis, and it is known that of the five types of hepatitis-inducing viruses — A, B, C, D and E — virus types B, C and D are capable of causing chronic infections, he said.
An estimated 2.4 million Taiwanese have hepatitis B, while about 600,000 have hepatitis C.
Studies say that young people infected with hepatitis B have a higher rate of becoming “chronic carriers” of the disease, while babies infected in the womb have a 90 percent chance of becoming chronic carriers, Chen said.
A chronic carrier is defined as someone who has been unable to get rid of the disease within six months.
At the same time, Taiwan had done “stellar work” in developing hepatitis B and hepatitis C treatment and prevention strategies, including a vaccine for the former and drug treatment for the latter, he said, adding that those internationally lauded achievements have ameliorated the impact of those conditions.
For example, hepatitis-related mortality in Taiwan has reduced by an estimated 250,000 deaths, and death rates from chronic hepatitis are declining every year, he said.
However, Chen said that he expects alcoholic hepatitis, drug-induced and metabolic hepatitis to rise in prevalence in coming years, due to increases in average life expectancy, pharmaceutical use and alcohol consumption.
A need for improvement persists in many areas of liver-disease treatment in Taiwan and more researchers are needed, he said, adding that many patients remain undiagnosed, and a large number of diagnosed patients continue to refuse treatment.
The National Health Insurance System imposes overly stringent restrictions on payments for treatment and diagnosis, he said.