Hep B Blog

Hepatitis B Foundation Launches Education Initiative for People Coinfected with Hepatitis B and D

hepc-graphicBy Sierra Pellechio

The Hepatitis B Foundation is excited to launch the Hepatitis Delta Connect program to provide education and resources for patients and families affected by hepatitis D, the most aggressive form of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis D infection requires the presence of the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), so only people already infected with hepatitis B can become infected with hepatitis D.

There is a large gap in knowledge and awareness about this virus, and the foundation is working to provide easily-accessible information and support to those in need.

Because the hepatitis D virus (HDV) is acquired only if a hepatitis B infection is present, it can be effectively prevented through hepatitis B vaccination. While hepatitis D is not common in the United States, worldwide it affects 15-20 million people.

Areas with the highest rates of hepatitis D infection rate include China, Russia, the Middle East, Mongolia, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Pakistan, Africa and the Amazonian river basin. It is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood and bodily fluids, and most commonly affects high-risk groups such as intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men or have multiple sexual partners, and people emigrating from countries where hepatitis D is common.

Hepatitis D can be acquired either through coinfection (becoming infected with hepatitis D and B at the same time) or a super-infection (becoming infected with hepatitis D after a person has hepatitis B). A coinfection generally resolves spontaneously after about six months, but it can sometimes result in life-threatening or fatal liver failure. Like hepatitis B, hepatitis D may not present with any symptoms, so getting a simple blood test is the only way to know if you are infected.

Hepatitis B Foundation Health Outreach Coordinator Sierra Pellechio
Hepatitis B Foundation Health Outreach Coordinator Sierra Pellechio

Treatment options are limited, but pegylated interferon has shown some effectiveness in a small percentage of patients (less than 30 percent). The good news is that there are five promising drugs currently in clinical trials. Visit our HDV Drug Watch and Clinical Trials page for more information about these drugs. We at the Hepatitis B Foundation appreciate the support of Eiger Biopharmaceuticals to help launch this valuable patient-focused program.

Hepatitis D is a complicated virus, and for this reason, it is very important for patients to find a knowledgeable liver specialist (or hepatologist) who can provide the best care and management.

The most important message for those living with hepatitis B is to get a simple blood test to find out if they have hepatitis D if they believe they are at risk. There are promising new treatments that could help prevent the serious complications related to a hepatitis B and D coinfection.

As the coordinator of Hepatitis Delta Connect, I am thrilled about this opportunity to help create a resource for patients who are living with hepatitis D. My experience in health literacy and community outreach blend with my commitment to support those in need, allowing me to promote the project in ways that will help raise the visibility of hepatitis D and let the 15-20 million infected people know that they are not alone.

In addition to our website, please email questions to connect@hepdconnect.org follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@hepbdconnect) to join the global conversation. We look forward to hearing from you.

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

In an era of hepatitis B immunization and improved health care, an alarming trend is happening — liver cancer is increasing and is now the second-leading cause of cancer deaths around the world.

This is why it’s critical that everyone living with hepatitis B should demand to be screened for liver cancer. There are three key reasons why liver cancer rates remain high:

  • Too few people are tested for hepatitis B, which is why two-thirds of Americans living with hepatitis B don’t know they’re infected.
  • Only 20 percent of doctors follow liver cancer screening guidelines and test at-risk hepatitis B patients for liver cancer. By the time liver cancer is diagnosed, it’s often too late for effective treatment.
  • And, screening guidelines themselves are inadequate and fail to use valuable blood tests that help identify liver cancer in its early, treatable stages.

Today, the majority of liver cancer cases occur in developing countries, fueled by undiagnosed and untreated hepatitis B. More than 80 percent of these cancers are found in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Asia where more than 20 of every 100,000 people will suffer and die from liver cancer.

But make no mistake, liver cancer happens in North America and Europe too. Because people aren’t effectively screened for hepatitis B and liver cancer, an estimated 10 percent of people with chronic hepatitis B will develop liver cancer in developed countries. Most face a bleak outlook, only 20 percent of people diagnosed with liver cancer survive beyond five years.

But you can beat these odds. In celebration of Liver Cancer Awareness Month, we need to insist that our doctors screen us for liver cancer. When diagnosed early, treatment succeeds and survival improves markedly.

Medical guidelines that recommend when and how we are tested for liver screening vary dramatically around the world, but most of them are inadequate, according to a recent report. The U.S. and European guidelines, for example, recommend an ultrasound of the liver every six months.

But an increasing number of experts, including Hepatitis B Foundation Medical Director Dr. Robert Gish, are promoting the combined use of an ultrasound plus two blood tests — for alpha fetoprotein (AFP) and des-gamma carboxyprothrombin (DCP) — to help identify liver cancer in its early, treatable stages.

Current medical guidelines recommend anyone with cirrhosis (liver scarring) should be screened every six months for liver cancer because 80 percent of people diagnosed with liver cancer also have cirrhosis. The guidelines also state that patients who have a family history of liver cancer, are coinfected with HIV or hepatitis C, or who are young males of African descent should also be tested for cancer at any age.

Many of us don’t have these risk factors, but we are still at risk. Our liver cancer incidence is much lower than if we had cirrhosis, but it’s still there and we need to be tested using the best tools available.

Age is clearly an important factor when it comes to liver cancer, especially if we have had hepatitis B for several decades, but current guidelines only provide age-specific screening recommendations in people of Asian ethnicity (men over age 40 and women over age 50).

As doctors debate whether these guidelines should be changed to promote earlier or more frequent screening, here are some questions to review with your doctor to determine if you should be screened for liver cancer:

How many years have you had hepatitis B? The longer you’re infected, the higher your risk of liver cancer. Men of African descent are found to develop liver cancer at an earlier age than other races and should be screened starting in their 20s.

What is your gender? Men are considered at higher risk of liver cancer at an earlier age because they may be more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, have more “active” hepatitis, and higher iron stores—all of which increase cancer risk. Estrogen is believed to protect pre-menopausal women against liver cancer.

Have you had a high viral load (HBV DNA) after age 30? Having a viral load exceeding 2,000 international units per milliliter (IU/mL) is associated with a higher risk of liver cancer even if you have no other signs of liver damage.

Do you have a family history of liver cancer? If an immediate family member has had liver cancer, this greatly increases your risk.

Are you overweight, or have you been diagnosed recently with type 2 diabetes? A fatty liver and/or diabetes increase your risk of liver damage and cancer dramatically when you’re also infected with hepatitis B.

Do you have hepatitis B virus genotype C or core/precore viral mutations? Originating in Asia, this hepatitis B strain is associated with loss of the hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) later in life. That means you may have had a high viral load and liver damage for a longer period than people with genotypes who clear HBeAg at a younger age. Having core or precore mutations in your HBV also increase liver cancer risk.

Talk to your doctor, even if you haven’t had liver damage and have had a low viral load or undetectable viral load for many years, ask if it’s time for a liver cancer test. For more information about liver cancer visit the Liver Cancer Connect website and for more information about screening for liver cancer, click here.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, representatives from Hep B United, CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and the National Alliance of State and Territorial Aids Directors (NASTAD)  will be co-hosting a twitter chat at 2 p.m. EST using the hashtag #liverchat.

Why Raised Voices, Phone Calls and Letter Writing Are Critical to Eradicate Hepatitis B

2013-05-17_HepbUnitedEventBy Christine Kukka

Getting the medical care we need requires advocacy, because in the U.S. the quality of our healthcare–and even how long we live–depends on our income, ethnicity, gender and where we live. That is especially true when we live with hepatitis B.

Many affected by hepatitis B are not endowed with money, privilege or political power. Most of us are immigrants and people of African and Asian descent. This infection illuminates our country’s racial divides in healthcare. Asian-Americans, for example, have liver cancer rates 13-times higher than white Americans because they were never tested for hepatitis B, diagnosed or treated until it was too late.

Many of us are gay or injecting drug users. We are often uninsured or under-insured, which leaves us unable to pay for testing or treatment.

Our doctors, who often work in healthcare systems focused more on the bottom line than patient care, see too many patients in too little time. They may not know to screen us for hepatitis B, or monitor us properly and refer us for treatment when the infection damages our livers.

Despite good intentions, we live with a broken healthcare system and like any political system it requires the actions of patients, voters and advocacy organizations to improve.

Participants Perform a B A Hero Chant
Participants Perform a B A Hero Chant

The Hepatitis B Foundation and national coalitions including Hep B United are working within the political system to make healthcare more equitable and accountable.  They’re fighting to get more funding so the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health have more resources to eradicate hepatitis B. Recently, these advocates scored a victory. Continue reading "Why Raised Voices, Phone Calls and Letter Writing Are Critical to Eradicate Hepatitis B"