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Help Raise Awareness on Hepatitis Testing Day – May 19th

Ronald Valdiserri

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri

Next Tuesday, May 19, is the fourth annual national Hepatitis Testing Day. The observance was established in 2011 with the initial release of the national Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis (Action Plan). Its goal is to help raise awareness of hepatitis B and hepatitis C and to encourage more individuals to learn their status. Hepatitis Testing Day is an important opportunity for federal health officials and stakeholders across all levels of society to educate their constituents and communities about viral hepatitis and encourage those at risk to be tested.

Online Hepatitis Risk Assessment

One of the tools that can be particularly useful in this outreach is CDC’s online Hepatitis Risk Assessment tool. Users confidentially answer a brief series of questions that result in recommendations about whether they should be tested for hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C. Persons who take the assessment can print the tailored recommendations—which are based on the most up-to-date guidelines—and use that printout to discuss viral hepatitis testing and vaccination (for hepatitis B) with their medical provider. If you haven’t tried this tool yourself, I encourage you to do so. If you have already used it, please consider sharing it with others who might benefit from its use.

Other Tools to Help Raise Hepatitis Awareness

CDC has developed a number of other tools that can be useful in raising awareness of the importance of hepatitis testing, particularly among populations with a disproportionate burden of disease.

For example, the Know Hepatitis B campaign informs us that 1 in 12 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has hepatitis B and delivers strong educational messages about the importance of screening. To help disseminate the messages widely among these communities, a variety of ready-to-share materials are available in English and a number of Asian languages.

Similarly, the Know More Hepatitis campaign encourages screening for hepatitis C among individuals born between 1945 and 1965 (so-called “baby boomers”) since CDC research indicates that this birth cohort is five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults, and most are unaware of their infection. With new curative treatments available, it’s very important that we scale-up efforts to increase the proportion of individuals with chronic hepatitis C infection who are diagnosed and referred to care.  The longer people live with undiagnosed and untreated hepatitis C, the more likely they are to develop serious, life-threatening liver disease.

Other groups are at increased risk for viral hepatitis and various efforts are underway to increase awareness and promote screening among these populations. For example, because African Americans are disproportionately affected by hepatitis C, my office—in collaboration with the HHS Office of Minority Health—recently hosted a forum focused on strengthening the response to hepatitis C in African American communities, convening representatives of more than three dozen organizations from across the nation to discuss ideas, opportunities, and strategies to address this significant health disparity. As a follow-up, we also recently co-hosted a webinar with the HHS Office on Women’s Health about hepatitis C among African American women. Many of the participants in both of those activities have committed to work with their constituents to raise awareness among African Americans on Hepatitis Testing Day.

Immigrants and refugees from parts of the world where hepatitis B is endemic are another population disproportionately impacted by hepatitis B. Among the efforts underway to help improve screening in this population is a webinar series, The Hidden Epidemic: HIV and Hepatitis B Prevention, Screening & Care for African Immigrants, Exit Disclaimer being conducted by the HRSA-supported New England AIDS Education and Training Center. This blog also recently shared a post about this issue to help educate and inform stakeholders who can help connect at risk individuals with screening.

Persons who inject drugs are disproportionately impacted by hepatitis C. In fact, of new cases of hepatitis C infection reported to the CDC, injection drug use is the most commonly identified risk factor.  CDC recently released a fact sheet on hepatitis C and injection drug use [PDF 610KB]. My office recently held a webinar to explore prevention opportunities among this population. A recent issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) features an article describing significant increases in hepatitis C infections related to injection drug use among persons younger than 30 years of age in four states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia). Each of these developments underscores the need to identify effective approaches to diagnose and treat HCV among people who inject drugs.

Hepatitis Screenings Covered By More Health Plans

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, hepatitis B and hepatitis C screenings are considered covered preventive services for many individuals at high risk of infection. That means that health plans must cover the test without charging a co-pay or co-insurance. Hepatitis B screening is now a covered preventive service for pregnant women at their first prenatal visit. Later this month, hepatitis B screening will become a covered preventive service for individuals born in countries with a high prevalence of HBV and other adults and adolescents at high risk for HBV infection—one year after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force gave such screening a “B” grade.  Hepatitis C screening is already a covered preventive service for adults at increased risk; in addition, a one-time hepatitis C screening is covered for everyone born 1945–1965.

A recent report in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) describes strategies for integrating HCV testing into primary care settings, highlighting important progress in making testing individuals, in accordance with current recommendations the standard of care in community health centers.

Join the Observance and Amplify the Call to Action

Federal agencies, state and local health departments, and community-based organizations across the nation are joining in the observance of Hepatitis Testing Day. We urge you, our readers, to join in this national observance by sharing information about viral hepatitis testing with family, friends, and colleagues who need to know. Together we can make this fourth annual Hepatitis Testing Day a great success by raising awareness of viral hepatitis and encouraging testing for those who at increased risk for infection.  Working together, we can make a difference!