Hep B Blog

Where is Hepatitis D? High Prevalence of Hepatitis B/D Coinfection in Central Africa

ResearchWhile hepatitis B is known to be highly endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and is estimated to affect 5-20% of the general population, the burden of hepatitis D, a dangerous coinfection of hepatitis B, has largely been left undescribed. Since the virus’s discovery 40 years ago, Africa has faced structural barriers that have contributed to the ongoing prevalence of the virus in this region. Widespread instability, under-resourced health systems, and poor surveillance have contributed to inadequate research and a lack of understanding about the health burden of hepatitis D on hepatitis B patients, particularly in Central Africa.

New data, however, reveals pockets of hepatitis B/D coinfection in this region, particularly in countries such as Cameroon, Central African Republic and Gabon. In a recently published study of nearly 2,000 hepatitis B infected blood samples from 2010-2016 in Cameroon, 46.7% tested positive for hepatitis D antibodies, a marker of past or current hepatitis D coinfection. Another study of 233 chronic hepatitis B carriers from 2008-2009 found a 17.6% positivity for hepatitis D antibodies. Other small studies from the Central African Republic have revealed 68.2% prevalence in hepatitis B patients, 50% coinfection in liver cancer patients and an 18.8% coinfection in hepatitis B infected pregnant women. Not only are new studies revealing evidence that there are groups at higher risk for hepatitis D, but a 2008 study on 124 community members in Gabon found 66% of them had markers for hepatitis D, proving this virus can also be circulating in the general population. Globally, hepatitis D is thought to affect about 5-10% of hepatitis B patients, making Central Africa an area of extremely high prevalence.

A diagnosis with hepatitis B and D can increase the risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer by nearly three times, and with only one available treatment, the future for coinfected patients if often uncertain. Although hepatitis B and D can be safely prevented by completing the hepatitis B vaccine series, which is available in many countries throughout Africa, the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is often not given within the recommended 24 hours of birth. Lack of awareness, availability, and high cost mean many infants will not begin the vaccine series until 6 weeks of age, creating a window for exposure to hepatitis B. Greater than 95% of babies infected with hepatitis B will go on to develop chronic hepatitis B infections, leaving them susceptible to a future hepatitis D infection. Spread the same way as hepatitis B, through direct contact with infected blood and sexual fluids, hepatitis D can be contracted through unsterile medical and dental equipment and procedures, blood transfusions, shared razors and unprotected sex. Although the severity of disease varies greatly by hepatitis D genotype, coinfection always requires expert management by a knowledgeable liver specialist, which are often difficult to find.

As an increasing number of studies continue to describe the widespread endemicity of hepatitis B/D coinfection and its public health burden, researchers and the Hepatitis Delta International Network are calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare hepatitis D a “threat” in this region in order to promote increased priority and awareness. Addressing hepatitis B/D coinfection prevention and management will be complex and require a multi-pronged approach through methods such as government prioritization, increased funding for health systems, hepatitis B vaccination awareness programs, birth dose prioritization, better sterilization techniques in hospitals, clinics, and barbers, and public awareness of the disease.

For more information about hepatitis B/D coinfection and the Hepatitis Delta Connect program, please visit www.hepdconnect.org or email us at connect@hepdconnect.org. Hepatitis Delta Connect seeks to provide information, resources and support for hepatitis B/D patients and their families through its website, social media, fact sheets, webinars and hepatitis D liver specialist directory.

Creating a #HepBFree Future in Arizona

Layal Rabat, Empowerment and Advocacy Manager at Asian Pacific Community in Action (APCA), provides an inside look into APCA’s hepatitis B efforts in Arizona.

Asian Pacific Community in Action (APCA) was formed in 2002 to meet the health-related needs of Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (AA & NHPI) residing in Arizona. Our vision is to inspire diverse communities to seek healthier futures. Our mission is to provide services, advocacy and education for diverse communities to help create a healthier and more empowered population seeking good health. In addition to hepatitis B testing, education, and referrals, APCA’s programs include Oral Health Advocacy, Advocacy Training, Policy Work, , Messaging/Storytelling , the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, SNAP enrollment assistance, Civic Engagement, and Pop-up Health Fairs & Clinics.

Engagement Through Storytelling 

Over the years, we’ve prided ourselves on our creativity and thinking of ways to connect with communities through arts and innovative practices. This has led to the creation of  #HepBGirl and the HepBoo basketball fundraiser to support our hepatitis B efforts.

APCA’s most recent work has been centered around a mini-grant project generously funded by Hep B United – a national coalition to address and eliminate hepatitis B. The goals of the mini-grant were to help establish or contribute to hepatitis B prevention, education, linkage to care, and surveillance on a local level. APCA focused on education and empowerment by implementing the Hepatitis B Foundation’s (HBF)  #justB storytelling campaign into the community.

The project timeline was based on the recruitment of storytellers, conducting storytelling events, and conducting the analysis. The biggest lesson learned is that recruitment can take the most time out of all of the goals. We were aware of the stigma around talking about the infection and wanted to conduct our work in an ethical, sensitive way. To do this, we worked with a provider who helped by offering the opportunity for their patients to share their experiences. The patients could then choose whether to contact us or not. We also assured those that chose to speak that we would not publish any of the stories without their explicit approval and consent. To respect participant time and efforts and reduce the labor required of them for the event, APCA took great care to do as many of the preparations as possible, simplify the questions being asked, and conduct the events in a manner that respected their emotional labor and centered their explicit consent.

Hepatitis B In Arizona

Centered upon vulnerable populations such as older Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) adults who were born before certain vaccine policies, APCA’s hepatitis B work includes addressing policy issues, access to care, and direct services. Direct services around hepatitis B included screenings, vaccinations, and referrals to care and treatment. In the past, APCA tested 2,869 people and found that 6.7% had active hepatitis B infections. An additional 31.2% were not vaccinated.                                                                                     

Arizona’s hepatitis B story mirrors that of the United States overall. From 2006 – 2015, an average of 979 chronic hepatitis B and 128 acute hepatitis B cases were reported each year in Arizona, though there has been a decrease in the number of acute hepatitis B cases identified in recent years. 
The rate of new reports of acute hepatitis B was highest among persons aged 40-44 years. Chronic hepatitis B rates were highest among those 30-34 years. 
The average annual rate of hepatitis B infection among Asians/ Pacific Islanders was much higher than other racial/ethnic groups (1,2). 

Looking Towards the Future

The mini-grant opportunity will help to launch #HepBFreeArizona – a campaign aimed at eradicating hepatitis B in the state. We hope to continue working with those that shared their stories to help build our future hepatitis B program and get it to a level where we can provide a space for patients living with hepatitis B to lead the way. The same barriers that prevent community members from accessing care also hinder their efforts to get involved in advocating for the policy changes that will alleviate those barriers. We are always learning how to balance community member autonomy and valuing their labor with respect to the time and effort they contribute and not taking more than we are giving.

Thank you to Layal Rabat for serving as our guest blogger this week! If you would like more information from Layal or the Asian Pacific Community in Action, please visit their website or contact them here.

 

Layal Rabat is a third culture kid who has spent years practicing the fine art of parachuting into projects as the need for her skills arises. She takes an intersectional approach to her work and does not shy away from any cause where injustice is present and her contribution is welcomed and necessary. Her experience lies in project management, traditional and digital communications using all mediums from her own voice to videos to writing to tweeting, assembling audience-specific information for delivery in an infinite amount of ways. An infinitely curious researcher and an obsessive collector and assembler of information, she is often seen playing a supportive role in the background and amplifying the voices of those directly affected by injustice in her community. Fluent in English & Arabic, intermediate in Spanish & knows a tiny bit of Armenian. Current issues are immigrant rights and public health. With a BS in Psychology & an MA in Social Justice & Human Rights, she is currently working as the Empowerment & Advocacy Manager at the Asian Pacific Community in Action, and volunteering her time as IT/Web & Social Media Coordinator at Phoenix Allies for Community Health. She also volunteers with the Restoration Project, Phoenix, and serves as a board member with Sonoran Prevention Works. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music (& karaoke), reading, writing, photography, and traveling.

 

References

  1. 2016, Viral Hepatitis Epidemiologic Profile for Arizona
  2. 2016, Arizona Department of Health Services

 

National African Immigrant and Refugee HIV & Hepatitis Awareness Day 2018

The Hepatitis B Foundation (HBF) is joining the Africans for Improved Access (AFIA) program at the Multicultural Aids Coalition (MAC), the Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO), the New England AIDS Education and Training Center (NEAETC), and the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) in continuing the national fight for federal recognition of National African Immigrant and Refugee HIV and Hepatitis Awareness Day (NAIRAHHA).

Founded during one of the African National HIV Alliance’s (ANHA) strategic planning summits, NAIRAHHA Day has been observed annually on September 9th by healthcare professionals, awareness campaigns, and other organizations since 2014. This year,  NAIRHHA Day commemoration began on September 1st. Quotes collected from #justB storytellers, healthcare providers, and health educators are currently being circulated across social media accounts to start a virtual conversation. The hashtags #StigmaCantWin and #NAIRHHADay2018 are being used to organize the discussion and raise awareness on Twitter. The quotes are centered upon addressing stigma and myths surrounding HIV and hepatitis in African immigrant communities. Some quotes remind viewers that despite how it may feel, many reliable HIV and hepatitis B resources are present around the country. Other quotes – like this one from #justB storyteller Bright – offer words of encouragement and support to those who may feel alone.

A comprehensive webinar, titled Stigma Can’t Win: HIV and Hep B Among African Immigrants, will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 20 from 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.  and will complete the commemoration of NAIRHHA Day 2018. You can register for the webinar here. In addition to stigma’s impact on access to care and screening for HIV and hepatitis, viewers will learn about the root causes of these particular stigmas and how prevention-related stigma differs from the stigma of living with a certain disease. These topics are essential to the process of global eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030 – a goal set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Healthcare providers and community members will share their experiences with the audience during this interactive webinar.

In America, it is estimated that 5% – 15% of the African immigrant population is living with chronic hepatitis B. Less than 20% are aware of their infection. Unfortunately, these numbers are thought to be a low estimate due to lack of awareness, surveillance, and knowledge about modes of transmission. NAIRHHA Day was founded to help address the numerous barriers to prevention and treatment that African immigrants face. It was also founded to acknowledge the cultural and ethnic differences that influence how African-born individuals interact with their medical community and the concept of illness. The specific goals of the day of recognition include:  

  • Raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis to eliminate stigma;
  • Learning about ways to protect against HIV, viral hepatitis and other related diseases;
  • Taking control by encouraging screenings and treatment, including viral hepatitis vaccination;
  • Advocating for policies and practices that promote healthy African immigrant communities, families, and individuals.

Last year, the Hepatitis B Foundation launched a project in partnership with CHIPO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to raise hepatitis B awareness among African immigrant communities. The project seeks to improve hepatitis B awareness, linkage to care, screening rates, and vaccination rates. The first phase of the project, which was completed in 2017, assessed the needs of African immigrant communities – including cultural beliefs, religious beliefs and common barriers to accessing healthcare. The second phase is currently underway and focuses on the development of educational materials to be disseminated amongst community leaders and healthcare professionals to further their understanding of both hepatitis B and the needs of the specific communities they are working with. Materials are anticipated to be released in early 2019.

Ending stigma and bringing attention to these issues doesn’t only start with coalitions and organizations; it also starts with YOU! Everyday actions can help to increase the visibility of HIV and hepatitis B, and encourage others to speak up. Below are some tips for individuals on NAIRHHA Day – or any day!

How to help:

    • Start a conversation in real life: Take the information that you see and talk about it with your friends, families, and co-workers!
    • Know your facts: Don’t have a lot of time to read? Fact sheets like this  one for NAIRHHA Day provide brief, but informational summaries of why a cause is important! HIV and hepatitis infographics are also available on the CDC website and the Know Hepatitis B campaign even has short videos and free posters so you can pass the knowledge along!
    • Share what you see: Social media may seem trivial at times, but it can help spread the message. Retweet, like, and repost the quotes you see or any information that can help combat stigma!
    • Help get NAIRHHA Day federally recognized: Contact your local health departments, local and national HIV and hepatitis organizations, and the HIV.gov Team at @HIVGov and express the need for NAIRHHA Day!

 

 

Be Your Own Advocate in the Medical Room

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) can be transmitted two ways: 1) through direct contact with blood and 2) infected body fluids. Some risks for direct blood contact are obvious, such as touching an open wound to another open wound or cleaning up someone’s blood without any protective gear. However, other methods of blood transmission are harder to catch. Common activities like sharing razors, earrings, or toothbrushes are simple, innocent actions, yet they all have the potential for blood exchange.

Medical and dental procedures are aspects of our lives that we might not think twice about. While beneficial to our health, they also carry the risk of exposure to another person’s blood. Surgeries, shots, and dental activities all use sharp objects that pierce the skin and draw blood.  If the tools are not properly sterilized, or cleaned, before they are used on a new patient, the blood that was on the equipment can be transferred to the next patient.

Image courtesy of Cook Services

How do I know if medical tools are sterile? Ask! It is your right to know if the equipment that will touch your body has been thoroughly cleaned. In a dentist office, the assistant might unwrap a package of tools in front of you; this typically means that the tools are either new or have been properly cleansed. In a medical setting, needles and surgical equipment might come in packaging as well. If you still are not certain, feel free to ask what the standard cleaning procedures are for the tools being used. The staff will be happy that you are taking your health into your hands!

Why is it important to have sterile tools?   Hepatitis B earned the nickname “silent infection” because there are often no symptoms. Those who have been infected may not take the necessary precautions simply because they do not know that they should. They may not even know they are infected! In many cases, medical and dental professionals are unaware when a patient has hepatitis B. Therefore, it is important to make sure that all equipment that is being reused has been sterilized. Although there are no global sterilization standards, many countries and medical facilities around the world – like hospitals, dental offices, and doctor offices – have disinfection guidelines and practices for their equipment.

Tips to Protect Yourself:

  1. Be your own advocate: Ask the dental hygienist, nurse, doctor, acupuncturist or person in charge of your procedure if the tools have been sterilized.
  2. Know where you go: Try to visit medical or dental facilities that you trust and that provide clean, safe environments for any procedures involving blood or body fluids.
  3. Get vaccinated: Hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease. After receiving all three doses, most people are protected for life! Check your immunization records to make sure that you have been vaccinated or ask your doctor or local clinic about the vaccine.
  4. Share with caution: Sharing or eating food prepared by someone with hepatitis B is safe, but any activities that may involve direct contact with blood carry a risk. A good guideline is to keep all personal hygiene items personal.

If you think you have been exposed to hepatitis B, it is important to get tested. Visit your doctor or local health clinic to get screened.

If you have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B, our Physicians Directory*  can help you locate a liver specialist near you. The World Hepatitis Alliance can also help you find health care services and hepatitis B education in your country.

*Disclaimer

The Hepatitis B Foundation Liver Specialist Directory is intended for use by the public to assist in locating a liver specialist within a specific state or country. All data is self-reported and is not intended for use by organizations requiring credentialing verification. The HBF does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, or appropriateness for a particular purpose of the information contained in the Liver Specialist Directory. The HBF does not endorse the individuals listed in the service, nor does HBF verify medical qualifications, licenses, practice areas or suitability of those listed. In no event shall the HBF be liable to you or anyone else for any decision made or action taken by you based upon the information provided in the service. Note: This is not a physician referral service. The HBF cannot provide referrals to specific physicians nor advice on individual medical problems.