Tomorrow, July 28, we will join the global observance of World Hepatitis Day. Organized by the World Hepatitis Alliance , a non-governmental organization that represents hepatitis B and hepatitis C patient groups from around the world, the annual observance focuses attention on the huge impact of viral hepatitis infection globally – with as many as one in 12 people worldwide living with either chronic hepatitis B or C. However, according to the Alliance, “While this is far higher than the prevalence of HIV or any cancer, awareness is inexplicably low and the majority of those infected are unaware.”
Unfortunately, this is largely true here in the U.S., as well. Although it is the most common blood-borne infection and a leading infectious cause of death, claiming the lives of 12,000–15,000 Americans each year, viral hepatitis remains virtually unknown to the general public, at-risk populations, and policymakers; even health care providers sometimes lack knowledge and awareness about these infections. As a consequence, most of the 3.5–5.3 million Americans living with viral hepatitis do not know that they are infected, placing them at greater risk for severe, even fatal, complications from the disease and increasing the likelihood that they will spread the virus to others.
To address this, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) along with partners from the Departments of Justice and Veterans Affairs have been working for the last 14 months to implement The Action Plan for the Prevention, Care & Treatment of Viral Hepatitis (PDF 672KB) which outlines robust and dynamic steps to increase viral hepatitis awareness and knowledge among health care providers and communities, and improve access to quality prevention, care, and treatment services for viral hepatitis.
Among the priorities in the Action Plan is educating both providers and communities to reduce viral hepatitis related health disparities. Observances such as World Hepatitis Day can help us do just that. “This global observance is a critical opportunity for all of us — whether working at the community, state, national, or international level — to generate awareness about viral hepatitis and to add to the growing momentum around efforts to address these preventable (and treatable) diseases.” notes Ms. Corinna Dan, R.N., M.P.H., Viral Hepatitis Policy Advisor at the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy. Please join us in raising awareness tomorrow, and throughout the year, about the different forms of hepatitis, how they are transmitted, who is at risk and the various methods of prevention and treatment.
To learn whether you are at risk, use CDC’s new, confidential online viral hepatitis risk assessment. It takes less than five minutes to complete and delivers personalized recommendations about viral hepatitis vaccination and testing that you can print out for discussion with your healthcare provider. After trying this out yourself, consider sharing it with friends, colleagues and others who may benefit from learning more about their risk for viral hepatitis.
For more information on about World Hepatitis Day in the U.S., visit CDC’s World Hepatitis Day page. For more information about the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, visit our Web page hosted by our colleagues at AIDS.gov
Let’s work together to spread the word about this important public health problem so that it is no longer referred to as “the silent epidemic.”