Across the United States approximately 1.2 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) and an estimated 3.5 million are living with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV). Given the limited surveillance capacity of state and local health departments, these numbers most likely underestimate HBV and HCV prevalence. National Hepatitis Testing Day, which takes place on Saturday, May 19th, presents a great opportunity to raise awareness and remind community members and healthcare providers about the importance of testing.
Here are three reasons why it’s important to get tested:
- Viral hepatitis is a silent epidemic. Although HBV and HCV are leading causes of liver cancer-related death and claim the lives of over 20,000 people in the U.S. each year, viral hepatitis remains virtually unknown to many members of the general public, at-risk populations, policymakers, and even healthcare providers. Many people living with viral hepatitis do not know that they are infected, placing them at greater risk for complications from the disease and increased likelihood of spreading it to others. Also, many people with chronic HBV and HCV do not experience symptoms and therefore never seek medical attention. In fact, 65% of people living with chronic HBV and nearly half of all people living with chronic HCV do not know they are infected. The only way to know if you have viral hepatitis is to get tested!
- Hepatitis testing can save your life. Lifesaving, FDA-approved antiviral therapies are available to treat chronic HBV and new treatments are available that can cure HCV. Current available treatment for HCV can cure over 90% of people living with HCV within 8-12 weeks of starting oral therapy. Due to the asymptomatic nature of chronic HBV and HCV, early detection and treatment is crucial to prevent individuals from developing long-term liver damage and avoid liver cancer.
- Hepatitis testing is recommended for certain priority populations. Certain populations are at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis A virus (HAV), HBV or HCV. The ABCs of Hepatitis, an informational document created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes routes of hepatitis transmission, populations at high risk for HAV, HBV and HCV, and hepatitis screening recommendations for chronic (lifelong) infection. HAV does not progress into a chronic infection but HBV and HCV can cause chronic infection, scarring of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.
Medicare covers one HCV screening test and yearly repeat screenings for populations at high risk, including:
- People who currently inject drugs, or who have done so in the past;
- People with certain medical conditions, including those who: received clotting factor concentrates produced before 1987; were ever on long-term hemodialysis; are living with HIV; were recipients of blood transfusions or organ transplants;
- Healthcare, emergency medical, and public safety workers who’ve been exposed to HCV-positive blood; and
- Children born to HCV-positive women.
Medicare also covers an HBV screening tests for asymptomatic, nonpregnant adolescents and adults at high risk for HBV and a screening test at the first prenatal visit for pregnant women and then rescreening at time of delivery for those with new or continuing risk factors.
It’s likely that there are people in your community are unsure if they should be tested – encourage these individuals to take CDC’s Hepatitis Risk Assessment for a personalized risk assessment report.
Local health departments play a critical role in educating community members about viral hepatitis, offering or referring people to testing, and providing or linking people to care. Throughout this month, NACCHO encourages our members to make an extra effort to raise awareness about hepatitis. Here’s some ways to get involved:
- Sign up for the Be #HepAware Thunderclap by 11:59am ET on May 19th
- Check out this compiled list of resources to find information on federally-led hepatitis campaigns and resources
- Visit NACCHO’s webpage to explore our viral hepatitis resources.
Together, we can put an end to this silent epidemic!