Tomorrow, the White House will recognize National Hepatitis Testing Day for the first time. The full event will be livestreamed at www.WhiteHouse.gov/LIVE starting at 10:00 a.m. EDT. This action-packed event will feature Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo, presentation of HHS awards of recognition to 12 community partners, and two panel discussions highlighting opportunities and challenges for hepatitis and the ongoing opioid crisis, as well as HIV co-infection.
As many as 5.3 million Americans are living with viral hepatitis—an estimated 3.5 million people are living with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and 850,000 people are living with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Most are unaware that they are infected because they have few noticeable symptoms. So they have never been tested. People who are infected and unaware can develop serious health consequences and transmit the virus to others. If left untreated, HBV and HCV can cause liver cancer and liver failure. Viral hepatitis is a leading cause of liver cancer. A recent report from CDC, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society concluded that the rate of new cases of liver cancer is rapidly increasing in the United States and the death rate from liver cancer is increasing faster than all other cancers.
Knowing Your Status is Key
Hepatitis testing is the key to reducing this avoidable toll. Hepatitis Testing Day provides us with an opportunity to raise greater awareness about the prevalence of viral hepatitis and the importance of getting screened so that those living with the viruses can get appropriate treatment to reduce the risk of liver disease and liver cancer and to avoid transmitting the infections to others. This awareness is particularly important among the populations that bear the heaviest burdens of these diseases and the healthcare providers that care for them.
- For hepatitis B, this includes Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who make up about 5% of the total U.S. population, but account for half of the 2.2 million Americans living with chronic HBV. (Learn more from the CDC’s Know Hepatitis B campaign.)
- For hepatitis C, people born between 1945 and 1965, known as baby boomers, are five times more likely to have HCV. Unfortunately, the reason that baby boomers have high rates of hepatitis C is not completely understood. Most baby boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s when transmission of HCV was the highest. Since many can live with HCV for decades without symptoms and often go undiagnosed, HCV testing is important in order to identify and treat those living with the disease. As a result, CDC recommends everyone born from 1945-1965 get tested for hepatitis C. (Learn more from CDC’s Know More Hepatitis campaign.)
But these are not the only populations affected by viral hepatitis in the United States:
- A Leading Coinfection among People Living with HIV Among the Americans living with viral hepatitis is a significant proportion of people living with HIV. About 10% of people living with HIV in the U.S. are co-infected with HBV. About 20% are co-infected with HCV, and that proportion is even higher among people living with HIV who inject drugs. Viral hepatitis progresses faster and causes more liver-related health problems among people living with HIV than among those who do not have HIV. Although HIV treatment has extended the life expectancy of people with HIV, liver disease—much of which is related to HCV and HBV—has become a leading cause of death among people living with HIV in the United States. Diagnosing and treating viral hepatitis will help us achieve national goals of improving health outcomes for people living with HIV as well as reduce deaths. That’s why we emphasized the importance of viral hepatitis screening in the updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy [PDF 2,230].
- Opioid Epidemic Is Fueling New Viral Hepatitis Infections The opioid epidemic that is gripping the United States is fueling increases in new viral hepatitis infections. HBV and HCV infection are among the numerous health threats facing people who misuse opioids, particularly those who inject these drugs. Both diseases, as well as HIV, are transmitted through contact with blood. State and local health departments from across the country have reported increases of acute infections of both HBV and HCV among people who inject drugs. Stemming the tide of these new infections is among the priorities of the nation’s response to the opioid epidemic. Key steps include increasing access to sterile syringes through syringe services programs that can also offer HBV and HCV testing and connect clients diagnosed with viral hepatitis to care and treatment services as well as treatment for substance use disorders.
White House Observance Features Federal, State, and Community Viral Hepatitis Activities
The White House observance of Hepatitis Testing Day is co-sponsored by the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). We collaborated with the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP) to organize the event. The theme of the observance is “Responding to Viral Hepatitis in the United States.” The event will feature presentations from a number of the Federal government leaders in the response to viral hepatitis. Partners from state and community groups will also share their perspectives on key issues facing our country as we work to increase awareness, screen more individuals, and improve outcomes for those living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Please join us to learn more about the importance of viral hepatitis testing and to celebrate the efforts being made across the country to address viral hepatitis.