Hep B Blog

“Hepatitis on the Hill” Advocates Fight for Hepatitis Prevention, And So Can You

Hepatitis on the Hill advocates, March 2016.
Hepatitis on the Hill advocates, March 2016.

On Tuesday, March 8, more than 120 advocates from across the U.S. fanned out on Capitol Hill to talk to their representatives about the importance of funding the Viral Hepatitis Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dozens of people laid their hearts on the line and told their stories about how they, their families, and friends have been touched by hepatitis.

In meetings with Congressional staff, and in some cases their senators, they shared stories about family members who discovered they had hepatitis B only when they were diagnosed with late-stage, inoperable liver cancer. Others talked about how lucky they were to have been immunized at birth, considering their mothers were infected. Courageous advocates described losing loved ones to hepatitis B and C spread through the heroin epidemic, and recalled indifferent healthcare workers who saw only addicts instead of human beings who had  lost their battle with both addiction and hepatitis.

Our goal was to get our representatives to allocate more funding for CDC’s hepatitis division, which is sorely needed. It’s CDC’s job to investigate disease outbreaks and educate the public and healthcare providers about infectious disease. For example, CDC publishes a variety of reports and promotional materials to educate people how to protect themselves against hepatitis B and C. The agency also funds a “hepatitis coordinator” in nearly every state whose job it is to help prevent hepatitis, investigate outbreaks, and collect data—a Herculean task for just one person.

Historically, CDC has been criticized for coming too late to the game to effectively protect at-risk communities about the spread viral hepatitis and create culturally-appropriate materials to help disadvantaged groups, including recent immigrants and injecting drug users. But part of the problem has been its dire shortage of funding.

To implement these much-needed prevention goals, CDC’s viral hepatitis division received only $34 million last year. Our job is to convince Congress to raise that amount to $62.8 in next year’s budget. With Congressional support, CDC routinely spends billions studying seat belt safety, infant car seats, obesity, and ebola, surely it can raise $62.8 million to help prevent liver disease, which is the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

The need has never been greater. For the first time in years, there have been increases in hepatitis B and C, fueled by a heroin epidemic. I live in Maine, where heroin addiction has spread to rural, economically disadvantaged areas. Maine is one of a handful of states that has seen an increase in hepatitis B due to shared needles among adults who were not vaccinated. (Sadly, Maine was one of the last states in the nation to require hepatitis B immunization for school entry so many remain unvaccinated.) Hepatitis C rates here have increased from about 0.25 new cases per 100,000 residents in 2010 to nearly 2.5 per 100,000 cases in 2014, far above the national average.

Maine is lucky to have several needle exchange programs that refer clients for HIV and hepatitis C screening. In 2015, 20 percent of needle exchange clients tested in Portland tested positive for hepatitis C. These “reported” figures under-estimate the true prevalence. New hepatitis B and C infections rarely cause symptoms, and unless patients require hospitalization or treatment, most infections are never reported. Today, an estimated 75 percent of people with hepatitis C and 65 percent of people with hepatitis B don’t know they’re infected. To help them get screened, we need to fund CDC so it can make a real difference in this healthcare crisis.

To help increase funding for CDC’s viral hepatitis initiatives, please contact your U.S. senators and Congressional representative. Ask them to increase funding for CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis to $62.8 million. Staying silent is not an option.

For more information about how to contact your representative, click here.

Comments on this blog are closed. If you have questions about hepatitis B or this blog post, please email info@hepb.org or call 215-489-4900.

4 thoughts on ““Hepatitis on the Hill” Advocates Fight for Hepatitis Prevention, And So Can You”

  1. Hello,

    can you please elaborate some questions on your next blog. Or link me to a previous one if already covered.

    1. What does high hbsag and hbeag levels mean, the higher the worse? Recently when I tested I had HbsAg 900 (>1 positive), and HBeAg 1500(>1 positive). I plan to undergo a terapy starting next week, will the hbsag levels and hbeag drop together with HBV DNA?
    2. What levels of ALT & AST are considered as dangerously high, everything above the normal levels?
    3. My AntiHBe became positive a month earlier(61, >1 is positive), but my HBeAg are still positive(1500) and on very high levels. On a previous comment you told me that usually when one is positive the other is negative. Why this isn’t the case in my case? and do the numbers 1500 hbeag levels vs 60 anti hbe means that it is not strong enough to fight the hbeag.

    P.S I already consulted numerous doctors, but I am very worried with my health, and not satisfied at all with all the doctors I’ve consulted here where I live. I will start therapy with pegasys interferon next week as per their advice, but always looking forward to read comments, advices and new news regarding this chronic infection

    1. Hello: These are excellent questions, and I’ll answer them in order.
      1. What does high hbsag and hbeag levels mean, the higher the worse? High hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and “e” antigen (HBeAg) levels usually mean you have lots of hepatitis B virus in your body and the virus is replicating rapidly in your liver. When you have a high viral load (especially if you have average ALT leveles – with no signs of liver damage) it means you are in the immune-tolerant stage of infection. Your immune system doesn’t notice the infection and is not producing antibodies or attacking the infected liver cells. As a result, the virus is freely replicating.
      2. What levels of ALT & AST are considered as dangerously high, everything above the normal levels? ALT is a liver enzyme that is released into the blood when liver cells are damaged. “Healthy” ALT levels are 30 or less for men and 19 or less for women. However, each lab has a different “healthy” range, so some labs consider up to 40 or 50 healthy, which is why it’s a good idea to always get your labs run by the same lab.
      3. My AntiHBe became positive a month earlier(61, >1 is positive), but my HBeAg are still positive(1500) and on very high levels. When your immune system finally “wakes up” and begins fighting the infection, it may take time for hepatitis B “e” antibodies to be able to eradicate all the HBeAg in your body, so you may test positive for both the “e” antigen and antibody for a while while antibodies wage war against their targeted antigens, and those levels can seesaw during this battle.
      Current medical guidelines generally do not recommend treatment for people in the immune tolerant stage, unless they have signs of liver damage with elevated ALT levels. I don’t know your ALT level, however your doctor is the best judge and knows your history and overall health. Good luck.

  2. Hi sir/madam
    I’m j from philippines,recently I’ll have my medical examination.And I’ll found out that I was positive in hepatitis b.And I don’t know what to do cause even my parents my brothers and sisters and my friends don’t know that I’m infected with the virus?Hope that you can give me some advice of what shall I do.Cause honestly I don’t know what to do.Please I’m begging you that you will give me some advice and pointers about what to do in this virus if this is curable or not or their is a cure in this virus.

    1. Hello: Hepatitis B is common in the Philippines. When we’re infected as newborns or children, it can develop into a long-term or chronic infection because our immature immune systems don’t recognize the infection. When we’re infected as healthy adults, our immune system recognizes the infection and is able to clear it within six to eight months. The first thing to do is find out if your infection is recent (acute) or chronic. To do that, get tested again in about six months. If you are still positive for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), it may mean that you have a chronic infection.
      If you have a chronic infection, it may mean that your mother has hepatitis B and your siblings may also be infected, so I would recommend that you encourage them to be tested for hepatitis B and vaccinated if needed.
      You will also need to be tested for liver damage, which involves a blood test for ALT, also called SGPT. To learn more about hepatitis B, check out the Spanish section of the foundation’s website at: http://www.hepb.org/spanish/
      Remember, many people never require treatment and live long and healthy lives with hepatitis B. To protect your health, we recommend you eat healthy foods, avoid alcohol and cigarettes, and remember to use safe sex practices as exposure to infected blood, body fluids and semen can spread the infection. Good luck.

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