The term ‘hepatitis’
The term Hepatitis is not referring to a specific disease or virus but generally refers to an inflammation of the liver (greek ‘hepar’). Responsible for such a condition can be viruses (not just the ones referred to as Hepatitis A to E), poisoning or mechanic traumas. In this article I am referring to viral hepatitis.
Statistics on causes of death for Germany in general
Randomly pivoting through the statistics on causes of death in Germany (published by the Federal Bureau of Statistics on their online platform GENESIS) I was searching for obvious anomalies in the data. And indeed only few causes display a simple trend or at least some steadiness at all. Most of the charts for fatatlities against time look very similar to the Alps or the skyline of some random fast growing chinese metropole region. It became pretty clear that for interpreting most of the ups and downs and their relations a close look on the nature of the underlying fatality and its context would be required.
A sudden increase of deaths caused by viral Hepatitis in 1998 for all age groups
Having said that – let’s have a look at the development of fatalities caused by viral hepatits for different age groups.
I chose four age groups to give more insight to how viral hepatits affects society. Oviously something happened in 1998, as all chosen age groups report increases of deaths ranging from 85% to 227%. It is also obvious that the death counts of all age groups are still (2010) affected by this increase more than a decade ago!
But of course the age distribution of our population is also changing over time. So I took offical statistics on Germany’s population and calculated the rate of deaths over time.
Now first of all, if you look at this chart the situation certainly looks less dramatic given that of all persons aged below 70 years less than a percent of a percent is dying of a viral hepatits – I certainly don’t intend to cause panic!
Death rate trends for different age groups
Another aspect I find very thought provoking is the different trend of death rates for the age groups 70 to 79 and 80 years to infinity. A reason might be that people above 80 are often living in retirement homes where hepatitis is passed from one inhabitant to the next very easily. That would explain why this age group is the only one showing a clear upswing. But of course 80-inf is also the only age group you can’t escape alive anyway. People aged from 70 to 79 years might catch viral hepatits and die aged 80 or later from it.
What caused the increase?
What happened in 1997/98 remains a mystery. A google search for “hepatitis outbreak 1997” leads to articles about an outbreak of Hepatitis A in the States caused by frozen strawberries originating in Mexico in 1997. According to the wikipedia article on Hepatitis A fatalities due to this virus are rather rare – but relatively high for persons above 50 years and relatively very low for children.
As you can see from the chart, the age group for 0 to 19 years has not been significantly affected by whatever caused the increase in 1998 for the other age groups. This might speak for a link with the Hepatitis A outbreak in the USA.
What do the experts know about it?
I already wrote a question regarding this observation to three high profile medical professors (from Katholische Klinik Oberhausen and Charité) specialized on diseases of the liver and the Robert Koch institute. Unfortunately none of them could tell me more about this increase. The RKI at least sent me a link to their quarterly bulletin on contagious diseases from 1998. But the figures there just show no significant increases at all.
(original article published on www.joyofdata.de)