As we observe African American History Month, we are also working to raise awareness of the silent epidemic of viral hepatitis in the Black community. You may have seen the blog post earlier this month by my colleague Dr. Nadine Gracia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health. She highlighted some of the troubling viral hepatitis disparities in the African American community, recognizing the need for more education, screening and linkage to treatment and care.
Learn the Facts
The first step to reducing these disparities is increasing awareness about viral hepatitis:
- Hepatitis B and C are liver diseases caused by viruses.
- Anyone can get hepatitis B or hepatitis C, but African Americans bear a disproportionate burden of disease.
- Most people living with viral hepatitis do not know they are infected.
- Chronic hepatitis infections cause liver damage, liver cirrhosis, and liver cancer, often with no symptoms.
- Hepatitis B can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
- Both hepatitis B and C viruses can be transmitted through exposure to blood or through sex.
- Getting a simple blood test is the only way to know if you have been exposed to viral hepatitis.
- Treatments exist for both hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Testing for Viral Hepatitis Is Key
Although hepatitis B and hepatitis C are serious health problems within the African American community, too few African Americans know about these diseases or get tested for them. Fortunately, simple blood tests can determine if you have been exposed to the viruses. See your doctor and ask to be tested if you if you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus or the hepatitis C virus. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage and save lives. Learn more about who is at risk for hepatitis B and hepatitis C and who should be tested in the document, “Viral Hepatitis in the African American Community” [PDF 432 KB].
What the Government Is Doing to Address Viral Hepatitis in All Communities
The Federal Government is committed to working with community and a broad array of partners to ensure that new cases of viral hepatitis are prevented and that people who are already infected are tested and provided with counseling, care, and treatment. Agencies across the government are collaborating to implement the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, released in May 2011. The plan seeks to increase the proportion of Americans who are aware of their viral hepatitis infection; reduce the number of new cases of hepatitis C infection; and eliminate mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B. Whether we work in health care, government, the faith community, or the private sector, all of us can contribute to “combating the silent epidemic of viral hepatitis” in the United States. The time is now!