Hep B Blog

Reflections from Hep B Free Phildelphia’s HBV Screening Event – CHOP site

Last week ended with an exciting city-wide hepatitis B screening event in downtown Philadelphia.  This event was sponsored by the Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B Free Philly as part of the Hep B Free Philadelphia campaign. Hospitals included Hahnemann University Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Albert Einstein Medical Center.  Naturally each site was a little different and had their unique challenges. Throughout the four sights there were Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B Free Philly volunteers, and 100 college-student volunteers. Student volunteers were a mix of pre-med and medical students, public health students, tutors in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish and French, and students interested in doing community out-reach. Twenty community –based organizations were also involved in order to reach out to high risk communities throughout the city of Philadelphia.  During this event, 200 at-risk participants were screened for hepatitis B. Those participants that do not have HBV will be invited to receive their free HBV vaccine.  This info will arrive in the mail with their test results.  Those with HBV will be provided with a linkage to care.

I thoroughly enjoyed my participation at the CHOP location. Although I was not involved in the planning and set-up process, it was clear that the logistics involved in making this multi-screening event come to fruition was extensive.  Testing sites needed to be secured. Community out-reach needed to be done long in advance in order to reach out to high risk communities. Supplies were purchased and carted (via a red-wagon at the CHOP site!) to the various sites. Phlebotomists were hired for the day. Student volunteers were organized. At CHOP, our French translators were essential in making the screening event work.  It was great to see the students take an active part in the event. Some went off campus and distributed flyers. Others manned the give-away desk.  A number of volunteers helped patients with paper work and translations, while a number of students directed and maintained the flow of traffic from one station to the next.  All volunteers worked to make the operation run smoothly.

During the CHOP screening event, participants received their paper-work and went into the auditorium and answered screening questions, signed consent forms, and filled out their self-addressed envelope for their test-results.  Paper work was reviewed by volunteers for signatures and accuracy, and appropriate labels were placed on paper work and tubes by Chari and Jessie – a very tedious process. One small tube of blood was drawn by highly qualified phlebotomists.  Since we were at CHOP, our expertise included pediatric phlebotomists and smaller, pediatric tubes, and tiny needles for kids.  From experience I can tell you this is a real bonus! We did not have many small children screened at our site, but we were happy to accommodate those little ones that were screened.  Each child also got a sticker, a band-aid and a coloring book and crayons following their screening or the screening of their parents.  Water and crackers were available for all that were screened, and each family got a “B A Hero” tote bag.

Following the blood draw, participants were invited back into the auditorium to learn more about hepatitis B, whether it was to address specific questions or in small or larger group presentations.  This is where I spent most of my time.  The majority of participants screened at CHOP were African immigrants. Most were French speaking, so the need for a French translator was essential to our outreach mission.

In the past I have enjoyed providing HBV training in China, but this is my first time working with the African Immigrant population.  It’s always a pleasure to work with different ethnic communities.  In Philadelphia, the prevalence numbers of those with HBV are between 8% and 13% in the African Immigrant community, so getting the HBV basics across is very important in this community. One man was quite empowered by what he learned and asked if he could take some of our HBV information sheets home so he could distribute them to friends and neighbors. We also had a religious leader come for screening at the very end of the event. Hopefully he will bring his message back to his faith community, and it will encourage others to be screened at another time. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Personally, I found the screening event a very rewarding experience. Hep B Free Philadelphia is committed to continutedl outreach and screening in the Philadelphia area for those that missed last week’s event and would like to be screened. Please check it out if you are local and interested in volunteering.  If you’re not local, you might find a Hep B Free organization in your own city.  Get involved!  B A Hero! Save lives! Stop Hepatitis B!

Visit: www.bfreephilly.org

Check out: Reflections from the 10/22 Screening  Event at Thomas Jefferson University

Viral Hepatitis Meetings in D.C.

Last week was an eventful week for this HBV blogger.  I was fortunate to be able to attend the National Viral Hepatitis Technical Assistance and the National Viral Hepatitis Round Table (NVHR) meetings in Washington D.C. last Tuesday and Wednesday. These meetings were followed by Capitol Hill visits on Thursday by viral hepatitis advocates to their legislative offices.

In attendance at the meeting were state viral hepatitis coordinators from around the country, other state health department personnel, government representatives from various agencies and organizations, and numerous viral hepatitis advocates from various non-profit organizations. It was a great opportunity to meet colleagues from all over the country dedicated to combating viral hepatitis in the United States.

Please keep in mind that my background is patient oriented, and that I do not have a master’s degree in public health, nor do I have experience working in the public health system.  Keeping up with the political front is challenging as is keeping up with the public health system. I’m still trying to figure it all out. Both have their own language and acronyms. After a couple of days of meetings, I have a great deal of respect for those working in public health at both the federal and state level.  I also have a great deal of respect for those working to push policy on behalf of viral hepatitis. There’s always more to learn, but you can still make an impact by jumping in and getting involved at a number of different levels.

A couple of messages were loud and clear at the meeting and you didn’t need to be an expert to understand them. Perhaps the biggest message is that funding for viral hepatitis public health programs is very limited and the burden is well beyond the level of funding.  This comes as no surprise since these are difficult times for both state and federal government programs.  This lack of funding will require that all health departments, government organizations and agencies, advocacy groups and non-profits pull together using what I call the 3-C’s:  communication, coordination, and collaboration.  Don’t forget to be creative, resourceful and wrap it all up with a coordinated IT system.

What was nice about this forum is that people were able to see what was going on in other states.  Bringing people together infuses new information into the group, while creating relationships where people want to help one another.  This is imperative if we are to address viral hepatitis needs with a minimal budget. One viral hepatitis coordinator reminded people during a break-out session that there are small pots-of-money out there, but you’re going to have to be creative when looking for grant opportunities.

Chris Taylor from the National Alliance of State & Territorial Aids Directors (NASTAD) asked me, and others to do a video-taped interview where I was asked about my personal hepatitis B story. This was a great way for me to make a contribution, and I was happy to help. Telling your story can be a compelling way to raise awareness and get involved.

Natalie Cole was in D.C. doing a press conference promoting her “Tune In to Hep C” campaign. NASTAD arranged for her to make an appearance at the NVHR meeting.  It’s always great to have a celebrity figure to promote a cause and raise awareness with the general public. They are able to reach so many people at one time!

Thursday’s Capitol Hill visits were a great opportunity for viral hepatitis advocates to get in front of their own Representatives in Congress, or their state Senators. Each person on the visit brought her talents to the table.  Some were up on politics, policy and the process, while others dealt with the hepatitis at the public health level.  Finally, there are people like me that are most familiar with hepatitis B on a personal level.

The meetings made it clear that we all need to collaborate and be creative if we are going to combat viral hepatitis.  Americans living with viral hepatitis may be wondering what Washington or their home-state is doing about viral hepatitis.  Things are being accomplished.  Based on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, we have the HHS Action Plan for the Prevention, Care & Treatment of Viral Hepatitis that was introduced last May.  Planning and process is currently being written around the plan.  People are in place and they are working hard, but the system and its processes are huge, complicated, and slow moving.  It is certainly not a perfect system, but we can all contribute at some level to make this an issue important to those that do drive policy, and ultimately fund programs.

Where do you fit in?  If you are in policy or public health you know you have a big job ahead of you, but it is essential that you keep looking for ways to move the system more effectively and efficiently. If you’re living with HBV, you might think you can’t make a contribution, but that is not true. This is where “arm-chair advocacy” comes in.  Not everyone is going to head to D.C. to meet with their Senator or Congress person. However, you can make your voice heard.  Visit your representative when she is home for constituent work week.  A simpler, but equally effective alternative is to write, call, email or tweet your Representative or Senator.  Let your Representative know that you are living with hepatitis B, and that you want him to support viral hepatitis legislation. Use your voice and make your vote work for those living with HBV in your state!

Living with HBV and Dealing with “Itchy” Skin

The previous Hepbtalk blog discussed skin manifestations associated with hepatitis B and liver disease. This is a follow-up with some suggestions on dealing with rashes and pruritus (itchy) skin. Unfortunately, I have experience with this.

Most people living with HBV have episodes with rashes that itch, or with an itch without the rash. Rashes can be caused by all kinds of things, but the skin truly does let us know when there is something going on with our body. We may not be able to eliminate the itch, but we can work on providing the body with a little relief, and to be sure we do not do anything to make the persistent itching worse.

First, consider the root of the problem. It is possible that your rash and itching are unrelated to the current status of your HBV infection.  Unless you have serious liver disease, this might be difficult to pin down since many living with chronic HBV have compensated livers that perform all of the necessary liver functions required for life.  That does not mean you aren’t going crazy with itchy skin, but it is important to look at other factors that may be contributing to your pruritus.

  • Are you currently being treated with IFN or PEG for your HBV?
  • Have you recently started a new medication?
  • Do you have allergies, seasonal, food or otherwise?
  • Do you have other symptoms that might relate to another virus or infection?
  • Have you recently switched laundry detergents or rinses?
  • Have you recently switched any of your personal care items – shampoo, soap, creams, deodorant, etc.

Try to determine if there is a pattern associated with your skin problems.  Any of the above can cause rashes or pruritus without the added complication of HBV or advanced liver disease from HBV. I was convinced that HBV was the root of all skin problems, but I was wrong. That’s why it’s good to look at other possible sources so you can at least eliminate the things you have control over.

Here are some simple things you can do to help reduce the degree of pruritus:

  • Choose products that are unscented including laundry detergent and dryer sheets, along with shampoos, conditioners, creams and other personal care items. Unscented products are better for you liver, anyway. Everyone in my house is clean, but there is no fresh, clean smell.
  • Avoid soaps and use gentle skin cleansers like Cetaphil (another favorite in our house).
  • Use moisturizers that contain a minimum of alcohol, since alcohol is drying.  There is sometimes a balance with thick vs. thinner creams. We bounce back and forth between Cetphil and Eucerin, but you might have to test a few of them before you find the one that works best for you.
  • Take tepid rather than hot showers and baths, but be sure to bathe daily.
  • Wean your kids out of the tub ASAP.  This broke my heart, but the extra time in the bath is drying.  (However, oatmeal baths are recommended, even though this didn’t work for us). Don’t spend too long in the shower.  Learn to take a 5 minute shower.
  • When you come out of the shower, do not completely dry yourself, and immediately apply gentle cream or lotion from head to toe to lock in the moisture.
  • Use topical steroids in order to combat affected skin patches.  For kids we found the ointment, though a little messier, was more effective. Take care when topicals are used for extended periods of time.  It thins the skin, which can be especially problematic in the summer. Don’t forget sunscreen, too!
  • Keep nails cut short to avoid the temptation.  We even tried gloves and socks at night.  Try to avoid scratching with sharp objects, but be sure to properly sanitize them if they are used inappropriately. We often had concerns with “weepy” skin and needed to keep it covered in public.
  • If you choose to add humidity during the winter months be careful to balance that with possible dust mite allergies.  We initially used warm mist humidifiers and that was a big mistake, even though it feels great.  Unfortunately it took us a while to make that link.  As it turns out, a more moderate temperature is better – that and additional circulation with a ceiling fan.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • After swimming in a chlorinated pool, be sure to rinse immediately and apply moisturizer.
  • Pruritus is worse at night, so take an anti-histamine like Benedryl or prescription Atarax to help with the itching.  Atarax is effective for a longer period of time, so it’s a favorite in our house.

Although the “itching” in our house brought many tearful nights, and nasty looking skin patches that persisted for years, it did get better over time, with changes. It is important to note that is was much worse during treatment with interferon. Pruritus truly is a horrible, sometimes unrelenting symptom for those with more advanced liver disease.  Although the above ideas are worth investigating, it is important that you discuss severe pruritus with your doctor.  There are more potent prescriptions available that might help reduce the relentless itching.

Got any tips for reducing the itch? Feel free to comment and share your ideas with others living with HBV.

Got HBV? What is Your Skin Trying to Tell You?

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body, and your skin is the largest organ.  It only makes sense that the skin may be a window into what is going on inside your body and your liver.  The problem is trying to figure out what your skin is trying to tell you!

The most common skin manifestation associated with “hepatitis” is the yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and the sclera, or white part of the eye.  Jaundice  may be associated with a newly acquired or acute hepatitis B infection.  It certainly gets your attention and gets you to the door of your doctor, which is a good thing.  However, keep in mind that HBV is often asymptomatic, with few or no obvious symptoms, and jaundice is a more severe symptom of an acute HBV infection. Jaundice may also occur in those with advanced liver disease, and a decompensated liver. Jaundice is due to an accumulation of bilirubin, a yellow pigment, in the blood and tissues.  Your liver is responsible for controlling the levels of bilirubin.  If your liver is having problems performing basic, yet essential functions, yellow skin, eyes, dark urine, and itching (pruritus) may all be due to an inability to filter excess bilirubin.  Please see your doctor immediately if you experience jaundice of the skin or eyes.

It is also not uncommon for those with more advanced liver disease such as cirrhosis to have palmar erythema, which presents like red palms –especially around the base of the thumb and little finger.  Keep in mind that there may be other reasons for experiencing red palms, such as high blood pressure, pregnancy, or elevated estrogen levels. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Spider nevi or spider angioma are another indicator of more serious liver disease. These are not to be confused with spider veins. It is also important to note that 10-15% of healthy adults and children have spider nevi, with no underlying disease. They range in size from 0.5 to 1 cm in diameter, with a dark center, radiating out to fine, red lines. When the center is depressed with the finger, the radiating lines disappear, and then re-appear, when the finger is lifted. Spider nevi may be caused by an increased level of estrogen in the body.  Naturally these may also appear during pregnancy, and in women using oral contraceptives. Following pregnancy and the discontinuation of contraceptives, the spider angiomas will disappear on their own. Like so many basic, but essential functions, the liver is responsible for breaking down and removing excess estrogen. Spider nevi associated with liver disease tend to be large in number and appear on the upper part of the body, face, and neck – especially on the backs of the hands and arms. Once again, it is a good idea to point out these out to your doctor.

Gianotti-Crosti Syndrome is a rash associated with HBV and EBV (Epstein Barr Virus). This rash almost always occurs in children, with 90% of kids under the age of four. The rash may last from two to eight weeks. Basically, it’s just a response to a virus, and nothing to worry about – just an indicator. Kids often have a rash for one reason or another.  If the rash is excessively itchy, talk to your pediatrician about using a topical steroid. Every parent of a child with HBV is convinced their child has some sort of HBV associated rash. (Speaking from experience…) Even the pediatric liver specialist was unsure, so she got a consult with a pediatric dermatologist.  The rash was unrelated to HBV.

Wondering about your finger nails?  There’s a condition called Terry’s Nails which is present in many of those with cirrhosis. The nail appears mostly white, similar to the appearance of “ground glass”, and possibly with a little pink strip at the top of the nail bed.  This is due to a decrease in blood flow to the nail bed and an increase in connective tissue.  Remember that your doctor will not be able to see any of this if you wear nail polish to your appointment.

How about your basic rash that is associated with hepatitis B?  Rashes are most often associated with acute hepatitis B infections, although a recurring rash may occur in those chronically infected.  Talk to people living with HBV and they’ll tell you they have occasional rashes and annoying itching, even if their doctor may tell them they do not.  Could be totally unrelated, or it could be erythematous papular lesions, or palpable purpura.  In other words, your basic red or purplish, raised, bumpy rash. It’s not easy to find specific information linking your basic rash to HBV, but when you consider how the skin is a window to your general health, it makes sense that you may see skin manifestations that reflect your immune system response to your HBV infection as it cycles through various stages, phases and flares.

If you are living with HBV, you know the importance of monitoring your HBV status and your liver health.  Annual, bi-annual, or the schedule recommended to you by your liver specialist, will keep you on top of what is going on with your HBV and any associated liver disease.  However, it is good to take notice of any changes in the skin and nails as the liver is a non-complaining organ.  Sometimes we have to look for evidence that something is going on. That being said, I feel the need to rush to a mirror and check myself out after having researched and written this blog.  The skin may be a window to our general health, but it is not always easy to figure out what it’s trying to tell us. If you have any questions, don’t try to self-diagnose. Talk to your doctor and bring any of your concerns to his attention.

B A Hero…Free Hepatitis B Sreening Day!

Hep B Free Philadelphia is putting on a city-wide “B A Hero” free hepatitis B screening day on Saturday October 22, 2011. Free hepatitis B screenings will be available at the following hospital sites:

  • Jefferson – Focusing on the Chinese community and will be a bi-lingual event
  • Einstein – Focusing on the Cambodian community and others, and will be a bilingual event
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) – Focusing on the African community and the screening of entire families, including kids.  Event is bi-lingual (French/Haitian Creole)
  • Drexel – Focusing on the Chinese and Korean communities.  Event will likely be tri-lingual.

Please join us.

B sure and B tested

All screening and education is Free!  Fun give-aways for everyone screened!

 All test results are private and will be mailed to the individual.


Thoughts on Disclosure for Children with Hepatitis B

If you are a family with a child with HBV, or a family considering the adoption of a child with HBV as a special need, it is important to consider how you will manage your child’s hepatitis B information. As an adult you are making your own personal disclosure decision, but when you are dealing with your child’s personal information, it is a decision that needs to be made with the entire family to be considered. Think long and hard. Once this information is out, you cannot take back.

Something that I did not truly consider when we were making this decision was the fact that this was not really my information, but rather my child’s information. Our child was a baby at the time. We could not know her personality, and what kind of a person she would become with time. We were fully immersed in the baby scene, and were not even thinking about the teenage years. Little did I know that teens have an opinion about everything. My kids lost interest in discussing their adoption story at the store check-out by the time they entered elementary school. Certainly no one wanted to be the adopted kid with hepatitis B. No one wanted to be the adopted sister of the adopted kid with HBV. I cannot speak for other kids, but that was the case with our own children. In general, kids want to blend.

Initially we were concerned about sending the wrong message to our children by not disclosing this information. There should be nothing to hide, so we forged ahead with our information in a couple of small, selective circles. These were carefully chosen groups, nothing permanent like our neighborhood, since we could not afford to move if there were repercussions. Disclosure was abruptly halted after a confrontation with the early intervention team at our home school. Had we not been under the advisement of counsel, I fear the situation would have resulted in a breach of information we might not have been able to contain. I have heard similar stories from other adoptive parents, and it makes me cringe every time.

Parents are fiercely protective of their children – especially when they are young. I have heard heart-wrenching stories of broken friendships, neighbors that no longer speak, and the distancing of family members, all over the disclosure of information that perhaps should not have been imparted. But who knows who will be accepting and tolerant, and who will refuse to let your child play next door? Sadly, people lack basic information about HBV, and even in the U.S., there is a stigma associated with infectious diseases. They do not know anything about HBV, or how it is transmitted. They may not even be aware that their child is vaccinated against hepatitis B. They may choose to err on the side of caution, and choose not to have your child play with their child.

Although we made a family decision to not disclose, there were people that we chose to tell. Disclosing to family did not go the way I had expected, and I’m glad there are a few states between us. Fortunately with time and distance, people forgot about it, because they never fully understood it from the beginning. Disclosure to selective friends worked for us, but there were few that were told. We disclose to all treating physicians.

On the pro-disclosure side, I am aware of families that have disclosed their child’s HBV information and it works well for them. They are pleased with the support they receive from friends, school, church and family. They have made the decision to educate and raise awareness as a family. I commend that. Perhaps I am even a little envious, because that is how it should work! Unfortunately it did not work well for our family, where we live. Now that my daughter is in high school, she is okay with her HBV status. Fortunately she’s not truly “out there” with her information, but she has contributed in her own way to raising HBV awareness in selective circles.

To disclose or not to disclose, it’s a family decision. Think about it, and do what is best for your entire family.