Flu season is upon us! It usually ranges from the winter into early spring. It’s important that you get your flu shot, especially if you or a family member has a chronic disease such as hepatitis B.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get the flu vaccine every year. Flu viruses change constantly from season to season and can even mutate during a single flu season. It takes 2 weeks for antibodies to develop, so get your flu shot today!
There are some people who cannot get the flu shot, including certain age groups, those with health complications, and those with allergies. However, there are still ways people can protect against getting sick. Be sure to wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs. If you feel you are sick, stay home from work or school.
While we all know antiviral drugs are effective against the hepatitis B virus, researchers have also developed antivirals that can help us fight the flu once it is confirmed someone are infected. People at high risk of serious flu complications (such as children younger than 2 years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with chronic hepatitis B) and people who simply get very sick with the flu should talk to their doctor about getting one of three available flu antiviral drugs–oseltamivir, zanamivir, or peramivir.
According to CDC, prompt treatment with a flu antiviral can mean the difference between having a mild case versus a very serious one that can potentially land you in the hospital.
Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick, but can still help if administered later during your illness. Antivirals are effective in all age and risk groups. Studies show some doctors do not prescribe antiviral drugs to peopleat high risk of complications from the flu, so be assertive and ask your doctor for them if you have the flu!
It’s time to get your flu shot! It will help you, your family, and friends get protected against the flu. To find out where you can get a flu shot, click here.
For more information about hepatitis B and the flu vaccine, check out our previous posts on the flu here, here, and here.
World AIDS Day was last Friday, December 1st. It is a day dedicated to raising awareness about HIV and AIDS. However, it is also a great opportunity to discuss the possibility of coinfection with hepatitis B virus, HBV.
Dr. John Ward, MD, Director, Division of Viral Hepatitis, CDC talks about hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV epidemics in the United States.
Hepatitis B (HBV) and HIV/AIDs have similar modes of transmission. They can be transmitted through direct contact with blood, or sexual transmission (both heterosexual and MSM). Unfortunately, people who are high risk for HIV are also at risk for HBV, though hepatitis B is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV. Fortunately hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease and the vaccine is recommended for individuals living with chronic HIV.
Nearly one third of people who are infected with HIV are also infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C (HCV).2 To break down the numbers further, about 10% of people with HIV also have hepatitis B, and about 25% of people with HIV also have hepatitis C.2 Liver complications due to HBV and HCV infections have become the most common non-AIDS-related cause of death for people who are HIV-positive.3
Who is at risk of HIV and HBV co-infection? Because both infections have similar transmission routes, injection drug use and unprotected sex (sex without condoms) are risk factors for both infections.4 However, there are additional risk factors for HIV and for HBV that put people at risk4
It is important that people who are at risk of both diseases are tested! HIV-positive people who are exposed to HBV are more likely to develop a chronic HBV infection and other liver associated complications, such as liver-related morbidity and mortality if they are infected with HBV.1
If a person is co-infected with both HBV and HIV, management of both diseases can be complicated, so a visit to the appropriate specialists is vital.3 Some anti-retrovirals, which are usually prescribed to treat HIV, can eventually lead to antiviral resistance or liver-associated problems.3 One or both infections will require treatment and must be carefully managed. Treatment differs from person to person .4
Weibaum, C.M., Williams, I., Mast, E.E., Wang, S.A., Finelli, L., Wasley, A., Neitzel, S.M, & Ward, J.W. (2008). Recommendations forMorbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 57(RR08), 1-20. Retrieved from: Identification and Public Health Management of Persons with Chronic Hepatitis B Infection. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5708a1.htm
The documentary film, produced by The Vaccine Makers Project, follows the unknown story of a man who “had more of an impact on [people’s] lives compared to Einstein.” The film tells the story of a courageous and gutsy scientist, Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman, and the elimination of diseases of children. With his unwavering determination, Dr. Hilleman invented the first-ever vaccine against a human cancer (the hepatitis B vaccine), developed the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) combination vaccine, and prevented pandemic flu. During World War II he developed an urgently needed vaccine for Japanese B encephalitis in 30 days.
He is responsible for more than half of the vaccines children receive today and is credited with saving more than eight million lives every year. Now through exclusive interviews with Dr. Hilleman and his peers, rare archival footage, and 3-D animation, this new documentary puts a human face to vaccine science, revealing the character that drove this bold, complex, and heroic man.
When parents began choosing not to vaccinate their children in the 1990s, a cruel irony became clear; Hilleman’s unprecedented successes have allowed us to forget just how devastating childhood diseases can be. The documentary reminds us by allowing us to see these diseases as part of the film.
Community members from Philadelphia and Bucks County came for the film screening as they enjoyed fun movie snacks. They also enjoyed a panel discussion moderated by Timothy Block, PhD, with the documentary director and esteemed representatives from scientific community. Expert panelists included Donald Rayne Mitchell, Paul Offit, MD, David Oshinsky, PhD, and Walter Tsou, MD, MPH. They shared their thoughts on the documentary, Dr. Hilleman’s life, and the future of vaccines. Mitchell and Dr. Offit expressed that the documentary film was created to “inspire a kid or to get into [scientific] work someday,” and to “put a human face on vaccines.”
For more information about the film, click here. If you are interested in learning more about the hepatitis B vaccine, click here.
Be on the look out for a special “preview” vlog of the film screening at the end of December 2017.
Thanksgiving is not only a day to eat turkey or remind us to remember what we are thankful for; it is also National Family History Day!!1 This holiday can be used an opportunity for families to discuss and record health problems that run through the family, as this helps us live longer and healthier. 1
There are many chronic diseases that may run through multiple generations of a family. 1 Doctors can predict whether or not you could have a chronic disease just by knowing if your parents, grandparents, and other relatives have had it. 1 That is why knowing your family health history is an important and powerful screening tool.1 You can change unhealthy behaviors, reduce your risk of diseases, and know when you should be screened when you learn about what diseases run through your family. 2
Hepatitis B is not like other chronic diseases, where if your parents have it, your genes make you more prone to it. Hepatitis B is not genetic. The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood and infected body fluids. This can happen through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, body piercings or tattooing, intravenous drug use, and as a result of unsafe medical or dental procedures. It can also be transmitted from an hepatitis B positive mother to her baby at birth.
Even though hepatitis B is not genetic, you should still include it in your family health history discussion! The most common method of hepatitis B transmission worldwide is from mother-to-child due to the blood exchange that happens during child birth. Pregnant women who are infected with hepatitis B can transmit the virus to their newborns during delivery. 90% of babies exposed to hepatitis B at birth will become chronically infected with hepatitis B, which increases their risk of serious liver disease later in life. Knowing your family’s hepatitis B history can help you figure out if you and other loved ones should get screened for or vaccinated to protect against hepatitis B.
Knowing if you have a family history of liver cancer can also be important, since hepatitis B is one of the leading causes of liver cancer. If your family has a history of hepatitis B related liver cancer, then you may have a greater risk of developing liver damage or liver cancer if you have hepatitis B. Be sure to discuss a family history of liver cancer with your liver specialist.
If you need some advice on how to start the conversation about your family health history, read more here. You can also use the US Department of Health & Human Services’s My Family Health Portrait Web tool to help start this dialogue and learn how to share family history information at a future doctor visit.
You don’t need to wait until this Thanksgiving to talk about your family health history. You can talk to your family about your family health history and hepatitis B status RIGHT NOW!
Hepatitis D, or hepatitis delta, is the most severe form of viral hepatitis known to humans. The hepatitis D virus infects the liver and is dependent on the hepatitis B virus to reproduce. This means that people who are already infected with hepatitis B are at risk of contracting hepatitis D as well.
Worldwide, more than 257 million people live with hepatitis B and of this number, an estimated 15-20 million are also infected with the hepatitis delta virus (HDV). While uncommon in the United States, HDV co-infection is more common in parts of the world such as China, Russia, Middle East, Mongolia, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Pakistan, Africa, and the Amazonian river basin. For this reason, it is important to test hepatitis B patients who originate from these higher endemic areas for hepatitis D. Anyone with chronic hepatitis B who is not responding to antiviral treatment, or who has signs of liver damage even though they have a low viral load (HBV DNA below 2,000 IU/mL) should also be tested. Fatty liver disease (caused by obesity) and liver damage from alcohol or environmental toxins should be ruled out as causes of liver damage before testing for HDV. Hepatitis D infections lead to more serious liver disease than hepatitis B infection alone. It is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis, increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure. This is why it is so important that people with hepatitis B and D coinfection are diagnosed before it can lead to severe complications.
Robert Gish, MD, Hepatitis B Foundation Medical Director, and David Hillyard, MD, Medical Director, Molecular Infectious Diseases, ARUP Laboratories, tackled the topic of diagnosing hepatitis D in a webinar in October. Dr. Gish also answered additional questions, which are featured below:
What is the first step in diagnosing an HDV patient?
The HDV antibody test (anti-HDV) is the first test that is run to see if a patient has been infected with hepatitis delta. Because this test will be positive even if a patient has cleared a hepatitis delta infection, it is followed up with an HDV RNA test, which determines an active infection. There is also an antibody test (anti-HDV igM) that can test for an acute active infection.
Are there tests available in the US that can detect the HDV genotypes or just genotype I?
Although there have been 8 genotypes of HDV identified, each with their own distinct progression outcomes, genotype testing in the US remains rare and often difficult to acquire.
What is the role of measuring HDV RNA in monitoring chronic HDV progression or response to treatment?
The most effective way to understand the progression of a hepatitis D infection is to use liver ultrasounds, elastrography and fibroscans. These tests can evaluate the health of the liver. Declining HDV RNA level usually indicates a positive response to treatment.
Is there value to testing patients for a disease for which there are not many treatments?
Because patients who are coinfected with B and D have twice the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer compared to monoinfected patients, it is an important diagnosis to make. Although there is currently only 1 treatment, lives are still being saved.
Should primary care providers be testing high-risk patients for HBV and HDV at the same time?
No, providers should only test patients who already have hepatitis B. One in twenty people with hepatitis B are thought to also be infected with hepatitis D. Bottom line: testing for hepatitis D is a simple blood test that could change the course of treatment and save your patient’s life!
If you do find out that you have hepatitis D, it can be overwhelming and scary. However, knowing the basics can help you manage your diagnosis. Through the Hepatitis B Foundation’s Hep Delta Connect program, you can get information on how to protect your loved ones, find a physician, and seek out support.
The Hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective 3-shot series that protects against the hepatitis B virus. If you do not have a current hepatitis B infection, or have not recovered from a past infection, then hepatitis B vaccination is an important way to protect yourself. The recommended schedule for the hepatitis B vaccine is to receive the first shot, followed in one month by the second shot. Six months following the first shot, you should receive your third and final shot of the series.
If you wish to ensure you have generated adequate immunity, and are protected, you can have your anti-HBs (HBsAb) titres checked 4-8 weeks following the last shot of the hepatitis B vaccine series. If your titer is greater than 10 mIU/mL, then you have adequate immunity which is thought to confer lifetime immunity, but studies so far show 30 years. This is because these studies are on-going!
Please note that checking anti-HBs titres is not generally recommended for all vaccine recipients, with the exception of those that are at greater risk of infection. This includes but is not limited to health care workers, those with sexual partners with hepatitis B, and those living in a household where someone is infected. Talk to your doctor if you think you might be at higher risk and need to have your titres checked.
So what happens if you go for shot one, followed by shot two in a month, but you never get to shot three? The minimum length of time between the three shots in the series is 0, 1 month, and 6 months. There is an accelerated schedule, but this is the schedule recommended for the shortest amount of time, with the best immune response for the general population. However, if you don’t get to shot three of the series for another two years, or if you never got to shot two, you can resume right from where you left off, and continue without the need for repeating the series.
Here is a rule to remember the minimum time in between shots in the series:
Dose 2 should be separated by dose 1 by at least one month (4 weeks or 28 days)
Dose 3 should be separated by dose 2 by at least 2 months (8 weeks) AND from dose 1 by at least 4 months (16 weeks).
Keep in mind that the goal is to get people protected in the shortest amount of time, with the fewest number of doses. If you do not complete the series, you will not have adequate, longterm protection from hepatitis B.
What happens if you don’t have your vaccine records, and you have no idea if you ever got shot 1 or 2, and you just want to repeat the series? There is no concern with repeating the HBV vaccine series, so if you are unsure, please start the series from shot 1.
Be sure you and your loved ones vaccinated are against hepatitis B so you can be hepatitis B free for life!
At the Hepatitis B Foundation, we have many research and programs throughout the year. With the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), we co-founded and co-chair Hep B United, a national coalition dedicated to reducing the health disparities associated with hepatitis B by increasing awareness, screening, vaccination, and linkage to care for high-risk communities across the United States. The coalition works to reduce the impact of hepatitis B through prevention and education efforts, addressing perinatal transmission, improving screening and linkage to care, contributing to national surveillance data, and advocating on a national level.
Last year, the Hepatitis B Foundation offered mini-grants for one year to Hep B United coalition partners working on hepatitis B education, screening and linkage to care activities. These grants ranged between $5,000 to $10,000 each. The mini-grants were offered to enhance the capacity of Hep B United coalition partners to conduct HBV education, testing and linkage to care in their local Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA & NHPI) communities to advance the hepatitis B priority areas of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan (VHAP).
For 2017-2018 mini-grants, six Hep B United coalition partners (listed below) were recently awarded mini-grants. We are excited to kick off these projects and look forward to their future endeavors and results.
· Asian American Community Services (Columbus, OH) -AACS’ Live Healthy – Hep Free project will use the H+EAL model to increase HBV education and awareness and encourage testing by targeting high school students and their parents.
· Asian Pacific Community in Action(Phoenix, AZ) – APCA will be organizing community town hall events in collaboration with the #justB campaign across Maricopa County to collect and share stories that promote increased awareness and proactive approaches to treatment for hepatitis B.
· Asian Pacific Health Foundation (San Diego, CA) – APHF will be working to increase community knowledge and awareness of hepatitis B, determine gaps in knowledge, develop in-language education materials, and provide hepatitis B screening within high-risk communities throughout San Diego.
· Asian Services in Action(Cleveland, OH) – ASIA will be using community health outreach workers to increase HBV education and screening, including outreach to AAPI businesses in Akron and Cleveland, OH.
· Center for Pan Asian Community Services (Atlanta, GA) – CPACS’ project focuses on expanding their Atlanta-based hepatitis B coalition, increasing the number of Georgia AAPI community members who know their HBV status through community and provider education, and improving testing and linkage to care services throughout the city.
· Philadelphia Department of Public Health (Philadelphia, PA) -The Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program auxiliary project will create new education modules for prenatal and pediatric care and conduct on-site provider education sessions to improve knowledge and care for infected mothers.
The 2017-18 project period expanded its priorities to address perinatal transmission and education through storytelling efforts with the #JustB Storytelling Campaign in addition to screenings and linkage to care. The overall success of the Hep B United mini-grants has been proven through the significant number of high-risk populations educated, screened and linked into appropriate care for hepatitis B. We look forward to updating you further in the coming months as we continue to highlight the national work of the Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B United partners around the U.S.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), liver cancer is the second most common cancer in the world, leading to 788,000 annual deaths worldwide. Most liver cancer cases occur in developing countries. 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. However, liver cancer is alarmingly on the rise in developed countries, as well. In a recent study, researchers from The American Cancer Society found that liver cancer is the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Only 20 percent of people diagnosed with liver cancer survive beyond five years, and the number of deaths have doubled since the mid-1980s, and they are expected to continue to rise.
Why is liver cancer growing in most of the world? There are many risk factors for liver cancer, but chronic hepatitis B accounts for up to 60% of liver cancer and is the most common risk factor for this type of cancer. People who are chronically infected with hepatitis B are 100 times more likely to develop liver cancer compared to those who are not. The hepatitis B virus attacks the liver directly and repeatedly over time. This can lead to liver damage and scarring of the liver (or cirrhosis); which greatly increases the risk of liver cancer.
Sometimes, people with hepatitis B can develop liver cancer even when they do not have cirrhosis. There are a number of complicating factors which can increase the risk of liver cancer including traits specific to the virus and the person and their health status, which should be discussed with a liver specialist to determine when you should initiate screening.
How many years have you had hepatitis B? The longer you’re infected, the higher your risk of liver cancer.
What is your gender? Men are considered at higher risk of liver cancer and may be screened starting 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.
To commemorate Liver Cancer Awareness Month this October, help us spread the word about the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer! You can also join our Twitter Chat on Thursday, October 12th at 2:00pm – along with our partners CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, and the National Alliance of State and Territorial Aids Directors (NASTAD). To join the chat, use the hashtag #liverchat. For more information, visit our blog post.
Remember to talk to your doctor about the risk factors for liver cancer, and if you have hepatitis B, ask to get screened for liver cancer. For more information about liver cancer visit the Liver Cancer Connect website.
It is important to note that everyone is susceptible to hepatitis B. It does not discriminate. It infects, babies, children, teens, adults and seniors. It has no racial or religious bias, though it is certainly more prevalent among certain ethnic groups –mainly because it is endemic to the homelands of these communities. For example, if you look at the prevalence map for hepatitis B, you will see that in most of the world, hepatitis B is at an intermediate, (2-7%) or high HBsAg prevalence (>8%) level. Looking at the numbers, 2 billion people in the world, that’s 1 out of 3 people, have been infected with HBV and 257 million are chronically infected. That represents three-quarters of our world. Even if you aren’t living in these parts of the world, you may be traveling to some of these areas for work or pleasure, or perhaps your parents and other family members were born in HBV endemic areas. Since there are often no symptoms for HBV, and screening and vaccination may be lacking in some populations, HBV is transmitted from one generation to the next, with many completely unaware of their HBV status – until it’s too late.
Health care providers and emergency responders due to the nature of their work and potential for exposure.
Sexually active heterosexuals (more than 1 partner in the past six months)
Men who have sex with men (MSM)
Individuals diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
Illicit drug users (injecting, inhaling, snorting, pill popping)
Sex contacts or close household members of an infected person (remember, you may not know who is or is not infected)
Children adopted from countries where hepatitis B is common (Asia, Africa, South America, Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East) and their adopted families
Individuals emigrating from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
Individuals born to parents who have emigrated from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
ALL pregnant women – because infants are so vulnerable to HBV (90% of infected infants will remain chronically infected, and HBV is very effectively transmitted from infected mother to baby.)
Recipients of a blood transfusion before 1992
Recipients of unscreened blood and blood products – sadly an issue in many parts of the world.
Recipients of medical or dental services where strict infection control practices are not followed – sadly another issue in parts of the world.
Kidney dialysis patients and those in early renal failure
Inmates of a correctional facility
Staff and clients of institutions for the developmentally disabled
Individuals with tattoos and body piercings performed in a parlor that does not strictly adhere to infection control practices – it may be up to you to ensure proper infection control practices are followed.
People living with diabetes are at risk if diabetes-care equipment such as syringes or insulin pens are inadvertently shared.
The good news is that hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease. There is a safe and effective, 3-shot HBV vaccine series that can protect you and your loved ones from possible infection with HBV. The earlier you are vaccinated, the better. In the US, a birth dose of the vaccine is recommended for all infants, since these little ones are most vulnerable to hepatitis. (90% of infected infants will live with HBV for life). HBV vaccination doesn’t give you a free-pass from other infectious diseases such as HCV or HIV, both without vaccines, so strict infection control practices should still be followed. However, HBV is a tenacious virus that survives outside the body for a week and is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV 3-5 times more infectious than HCV. Plus the HBV vaccine is actually an anti-cancer vaccine, so why not get vaccinated?
Hepatitis B isn’t casually transmitted, but in the right scenario, it is effectively transmitted. You may think that situation may never come about for you, or for your loved ones –especially your little ones who are so vulnerable to HBV. Some people travel to exotic lands with unsafe blood supplies and poor infection control practices, and sometimes they get sick, or require emergency dental or medical services, so they may be put at risk. Most people have had a lapse in judgment – sometimes it’s a one-time thing, sometimes it lasts for years, but the net-net is that it’s unusual to find someone who has not engaged in some sort of high-risk activity, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If you are properly vaccinated to protect against hepatitis B, you can cross that concern off your list.
B sure. Get screened. if you do not have HBV, get vaccinated and be hepatitis B free. If you discover you have HBV, talk to your doctor and have him refer you to a liver specialist who can better evaluate your hepatitis B status and your liver health.