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Get Tested for Liver Cancer, Your Life May Depend on It

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month. It may be a sleeper of a event when compared to other health campaigns, but for us who live with viral hepatitis, it’s an uncomfortable but critical reminder of the importance of monitoring our liver health to prevent cancer.

Viral hepatitis, especially B and C, are viral infections that can cause liver cancer  (also called hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC.) Researchers are still studying why some people are more prone to liver cancer, but we who live with chronic hepatitis B or C have a 25 to 40 percent lifetime risk of developing liver cancer. The infection, which hijacks our liver cells to manufacture more virus, causes inflammation, scarring and even cancer as the liver cells grow out of control.

The longer we are infected with viral hepatitis, the higher our risk of developing liver cancer. While liver cancer often occurs in people with cirrhosis (severe liver scarring), some of us develop cancer without cirrhosis. Continue reading "Get Tested for Liver Cancer, Your Life May Depend on It"

Action Alert! Urge Your House Representative To Support Increased Hepatitis B and C Funding!

red-phonePlease tell your Representative that viral hepatitis is important to YOU, and ask for support of the President’s proposed FY16 budget increase for the Division of Viral Hepatitis, CDC. Increased funding is essential to support HBV and HCV programs. You don’t have to be politically savvy to participate, but we need your help. Call, email or write today! 

Representatives Mike Honda, Hank Johnson, and Judy Chu are asking all House Representatives to sign an important letter supporting a doubling in funding for hepatitis B and C programs in the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations bill (see text of letter below). This is the same increase in funding that President Obama recommends in his proposed budget, which was released last month. The deadline for Representatives to sign the letter is end of day, March 19, 2015.

This is an extraordinary opportunity to ask our House Representatives for leadership in the fight against the hepatitis B and C epidemics. The more signatures on this letter, the better chance of securing badly needed funding to expand testing, linkage to care, surveillance, and other vital services.

Please take a few minutes before March 19th to call your House Representative’s office in Washington, DC and ask/him to sign this letter. Continue reading "Action Alert! Urge Your House Representative To Support Increased Hepatitis B and C Funding!"

Viral Hepatitis Action Alert!

red-phoneRepresentatives Mike Honda, Hank Johnson, and Judy Chu are asking all House Representatives to sign an important letter supporting increased funding for viral hepatitis programs in the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bill (see text of letter below)

Please take a few minutes before March 25th to call your House Representative’s office in Washington, DC and ask/him to sign this letter.

You can reach your Representative through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Ask to be connected to your Representative. Once you are connected to the office, ask to speak to the staff person who handles health care issues. Whether you speak to that person live or leave a voicemail, tell them (1) your name, (2) where you live and that you are a constituent, (3) that you would like the Representative to sign the “Dear Colleague” letter from Representatives Honda, Johnson, and Chu supporting increased funding for viral hepatitis and (4) a brief message why this issue is important to you. Tell them they can sign the letter by contacting Kelly Honda in Representative Honda’s office, Scott Goldstein in Representative Johnson’s office, or Linda Shim in Representative Chu’s office. The deadline for Representatives to sign is March 25th.

Text of “Dear Colleague” letter from Representatives Honda, Johnson, and Chu:

Support Funding for Viral Hepatitis

March XX, 2014

The Honorable Jack Kingston
Chairman
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services
United States House
Washington, D.C., 20515

The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services
United States House
Washington, D.C., 20515

Dear Chairman Kingston and Ranking Member DeLauro:

As you begin deliberations on the Fiscal Year 2015 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, we would like to respectfully request that you allocate $47.8 million for the Division of Viral Hepatitis (DVH) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an increase of $16.4 million over the FY2014 level.

The CDC’s 2010 professional judgment (PJ) budget recommended $90.8 million each year from FY2011-FY2013, $170.3 million annually from FY2014-FY2017, and $306.3 million annually from FY2018-FY2020 for DVH in order to comprehensively address the viral hepatitis epidemic. While past increases have been helpful, these have only been small steps toward building a more comprehensive response to viral hepatitis. Our recommendation of $47.8 million is in line with the needs determined by the PJ and the goals of the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, but pales in comparison to the CDC’s PJ.

The need to enhance and expand these prevention efforts is growing more urgent. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer – one of the most lethal, expensive and fastest growing cancers in America. More than 5.3 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis B (HBV) and/or hepatitis C (HCV) and 65-75% of them are undiagnosed. Without an adequate, comprehensive surveillance system, these estimates are only the tip of the iceberg. Viral hepatitis kills 15,000 people each year and is the leading non-AIDS cause of death in people living with HIV – nearly 25 percent of HIV-positive persons are also infected with HCV and nearly 10 percent with HBV.

The epidemic is particularly alarming because of the rising rates of new infections and high rates of chronic infection among disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic populations, and presents a dramatic public health inequity. For example, HCV is twice as prevalent among African Americans as among Caucasians. Asian Americans comprise more than half of the known hepatitis B population in the United States and, consequently, maintain the highest rate of liver cancer among all ethnic groups. Additionally, African American and Latino patients are less likely to be tested for HCV in the presence of a known risk factor, less likely to be referred to treatment for subspecialty care and treatment, and less likely to receive antiviral treatment. Recent alarming epidemiologic reports indicate a rise in HCV infection among young people throughout the country. Some jurisdictions have noted that the number of people ages 15 to 29 being diagnosed with HCV infection now exceeds the number of people diagnosed in all other age groups combined.

Further, the baby boomer population (those born 1945-1965) currently accounts for two out of every three cases of chronic HCV. As these Americans continue to age, they are likely to develop complications from HCV and require costly medical interventions that can be avoided if they are tested earlier and provided with treatment options. It is estimated that this epidemic will increase costs to private insurers and public systems of health such as Medicare and Medicaid from $30 billion in 2009 to over $85 billion in 2024, and also account for additional billions lost due to decreased productivity from the millions of workers suffering from chronic HBV and HCV.Over the last two years, CDC and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) have begun to align their recommendations for hepatitis screening, recommending one-time testing of baby boomers and screening vulnerable groups for HCV.

We appreciate the Committee’s support for viral hepatitis prevention, in particular the increased support to prioritize the identification of HBV and HCV-positive individuals who are unaware of their status. We strongly encourage you to sustain your commitment this year. We have the tools to prevent the major causes of viral hepatitis and liver cancer – a hepatitis B vaccine and effective treatments that reduce disease progression, new diagnostics for HCV and treatments that increase cure rates over 90%, and even more medical advances in the research pipeline. Making this relatively modest investment in the prevention and detection of viral hepatitis represents a key component in addressing a vital public health inequity and will get more Americans into care, strengthen our public health infrastructure and combat the devastating and expensive complications caused by viral hepatitis.

Sincerely,

XXX

Viral Hepatitis Action Alert!

*ACTION ALERT*

HAP – Hepatitis Appropriations Partnership

 Urge Your Members of Congress to Support Viral Hepatitis Funding

In Their Appropriations Programmatic Requests

 

 

With the passage of the continuing resolution (CR) for FY2013 at the FY2012 levels (before the sequester) and no Prevention and Public Health Fund allocations, we do not know the total, final funding level for FY2013 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Viral Hepatitis (DVH) or the future of the $10 million they received in FY2012 for a testing initiative. The President’s FY2014 budget has not yet been released. We need your help in raising awareness among Members of Congress about the viral hepatitis epidemics and asking their support for increased funding for viral hepatitis activities at the federal level.  Viral hepatitis advocates are urging for a total funding at the Division of Viral Hepatitis of $35 million, an increase of $5.3 above the total FY2012 level.

In the next week and a half, all Senators and Representatives will write their “programmatic appropriations request letters,” which ask members of the Appropriations Subcommittees (who put together the federal funding legislation) to include funding for their priorities. The more Members of Congress that include a request for hepatitis funding in their letters, the greater the likelihood the Appropriators will include additional funding in FY2014.

As you know, viral hepatitis impacts over 5.3 million people nationwide. With a lack of a comprehensive surveillance system, these estimates are likely only the tip of the iceberg and 75% of those infected do not know their status. Even with these daunting figures, there are only $19.7 million in federal funding dedicated to fund viral hepatitis activities nationwide at the CDC in the CR for FY2013, before sequester.  Members of Congress need to know that viral hepatitis is a concern in their district, that their constituents are being affected and that this is an issue they need to care about. We need you to tell your story and ask your elected representatives to take action by April 12.

Additionally, the CDC released FY2012 Grant Funding Profiles by state, here. When you click on your state and “Generate Report,” your state’s viral hepatitis funding is included in the report.

Step-by-step instructions on what to do are below:

1.   Determine what Members of Congress to contact.  You should contact your personal Member of the House of Representatives and two Senators.  You should also contact other House Members in areas where your organization is located or provides services.  To determine who your Representative is please go to www.house.gov and type in your zip code(s); to determine who your Senators are go to www.senate.gov and select your state from the drop down menu.

2.   Call the Members’ Offices to get the name and correct spelling of their health staff person.  Email the staff using the draft email text below.  House staff emails are First.Last@mail.house.gov (john.smith@mail.house.gov) Senate staff emails are First_Last@Last name of Senator.Senate.gov (john_smith@doe.senate.gov)

Sample email:
Your Name
State and Zip code

Dear (Name of Health Staffer):

My name is ____________ and I live in City/State. I am writing to urge Representative/Senator________________ to include funding for viral hepatitis in his/her Fiscal Year 2012 programmatic appropriations request letter.  [Include brief details on the impact of viral hepatitis on yourself or describe your organization].

There are over 5.3 million Americans impacted by viral hepatitis but, in FY2012, the only dedicated federal funding stream provided a mere $29.7 million through CDC.  This is insufficient to provide the most basic public health services such as education, counseling, testing, or medical management for people living with or at risk of viral hepatitis.

I urge Representative/Senator ___________ to support a total funding level of $35 million for the Division of Viral Hepatitis in FY2014 to effectively combat these epidemics.  I will be following up with you in the near future to discuss this request.  In the meantime, feel free to contact me with questions.

Thank you again for consideration of my request.

Your Name

3.   Follow-up with the staff you have emailed with a phone call to confirm they received the request and to determine when they may have an answer from their bosses as to whether or not they will include a hepatitis funding request in their Appropriation programmatic request letter.  If asked, make it clear to the staff that this is a program request and NOT a project request (i.e. money for a district specific project like a bridge, hospital or university).  You may need to follow-up again around the time the staff says they will have an answer from their chain of command.

4.   If you need assistance or want to talk through the process please email or call Oscar Mairena at (202) 434-8058 or omairena@NASTAD.org. If the staff member requests “report language” or “program language,” please contact Oscar and he will provide that for you. Please also share positive responses with the Hepatitis Appropriations Partnership by contacting Oscar.

Oscar Mairena
Manager, Viral Hepatitis/Policy and Legislative Affairs
National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD)
444 North Capitol Street NW, Suite 339
Washington, DC  20001
Phone: (202) 434.8058      Fax: (202) 434.8092
omairena@NASTAD.org     www.NASTAD.org
“Bridging Science, Policy and Public Health”

 

 

 

 

What You Need to Know About Hepatitis C and Liver Cancer

The Hepatitis B Foundation’s Liver Cancer Webinar Series continues Wednesday, April 3rd.  HBF’s first webinar was overwhelmingly successful, so we hope you’ll join us next week for “Liver Cancer and Hepatitis C: What You Need to Know”, presented by leading hepatitis C expert, Douglas LaBrecque, MD.

Dr. LaBrecque is the Professor of Medicine and Director of the Liver Service at the University of Iowa. He also served as Chief of GI and Hepatology at the Iowa City VA Hospital for 19 years. He has conducted extensive research on the development and treatment of hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and other liver diseases, including liver transplantation with more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, three books, 22 book chapters and over 150 abstracts.

Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the seventh most common cancer worldwide. But the major causes of liver cancer— such as chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and cirrhosis— are largely preventable. And treatments for liver cancer are available.

Join The Hepatitis B Foundation’s webinar series to learn about the risk factors for liver cancer and the importance of liver cancer screening and surveillance. The expert presenters will describe currently available treatment options and clinical trials. These webinars are provided free of charge to help educate and raise liver cancer awareness.

Liver Cancer and Hepatitis C: What You Need to Know webinar details:

Presented by: Dr. Douglas LaBrecque
Date: Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Time: 3 pmEST; 12 pmPST
Click here to register

Download the March 6th Webinar and listen to Hepatitis B and Liver Cancer: What You Need to Know, by Dr. Robert Gish

For additional accurate, easy-to-understand information on liver cancer, visit the Hepatitis B Foundation’s dedicated website, www.LiverCancerConnect.org.

The Hepatitis B Foundation Participates in Liver Capitol Hill Day, 2013 – A Personal Reflection

Yesterday the Hepatitis B Foundation participated in the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) annual “Liver Capitol Hill Day” visits. This is a great opportunity to get in front of state Senators and Congressmen in order to make requests known to them. It is also an opportunity to educate. As a constituent, your state representatives are interested in what you have to say. The “Asks” for the day were to support funding for liver related research, prevention strategies, and support of liver patient access to quality medical care.  Specifically, we were asking for NIH funding growth, rather than the 20% cut over the last decade, along with support of government agencies such as the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, and the delivery of health care systems and payment policies for patients living with liver diseases.  Prevention is also critical with specific asks for new, one-time hepatitis C testing and screening for hepatitis B for at-risk patients. As we are all aware, budgets are tight and we will all soon feel the effects of the Sequester. Research programs may no longer be funded, or severely cut, public health agencies and programs will be cut, and patients who are currently receiving medical assistance will suffer. For treated patients with HBV, it is essential nothing interrupts the daily antiviral use, and of course HBV and liver cancer prevention through screening, vaccination and surveillance is both necessary and cost effective in the long run.

Due to the Sequester, the day started in a panic for many Hill visitors. I was fortunate to arrive early – a good thing since I waited in a long security line for 45 minutes that wrapped around the building. As Maryland residents, Dave Li and I met with staff from both Senator Ben Cardin’s (D) and Senator Barbara Mikulski’s (D) offices.  Senator Mikulski was recently appointed the Chairperson of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. This means she will have a great deal of influence on budget and spending decisions. We were told that due to the Sequester, the Continuing Resolution (CR) will remain in place for the remainder of the 2013, but Senator Mikulski is optimistic that the FY14 and future funding for the NIH, specifically, will be maintained. As a Maryland Senator, this is extremely important to Sen. Mikulski on many fronts. Senator Cardin has been making visits to agencies in MD, including the NIH, and researchers are frustrated they are unable to do their work.  Both Senator Cardin and Senator Mikulski support federal agencies (such as the CDC, Division of Viral Hepatitis, Public Health Agency etc.) and initiatives that provide care and services to meet the health care needs of Marylanders.  Fortunately this supports the Health and U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Viral Hepatitis Action Plan initiatives, since both Senators are supportive of prevention and surveillance initiatives.  Dave and I walked out of our Senate meeting feeling pretty good.

Unfortunately, the outlook was not so optimistic on the House side. We visited staffers from Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Elijah Cummings offices. Although they are working on budgets, they are meeting with opposition and resigned to deep cuts in their supported programs.  Congressman Cumming’s staffer was pleased to hear an optimistic viewpoint from Mikulski’s office.  Although clearly mixed signals from our House and Senate meetings, we can only hope that Congress will eventually work together and move forward with continued funding of agencies and programs that support those living with liver disease.

Please remember that your state Senators and Representatives have been voted to serve YOU. It is imperative that your voice be heard. If you don’t let them know what is important to you, important programs and agencies will be drastically cut.  You do not need to be a political machine to participate. Don’t know your Representative?   Find your Rep. on-line by putting in your zip code or state to learn who you need to contact. Find your Senator, Governor and Congressmen here. Call the Capitol switchboard’s toll free number at 1-888-876-6242 , or send an email  or letter with your asks, and your personal stories. Be sure your message is clear and concise, and personalize it if you can. You can visit your Representative or Senator when you are visiting Washington, D. C., or in the local, state office. Let your voice be heard – especially during this very difficult time.

Liver Cancer Webinar Series: What You Need to Know

Missed the webinar? Download the March 6th Webinar and listen to Hepatitis B and Liver Cancer: What You Need to Know, by Dr. Robert Gish

Due to an overwhelming response, continued registration for  this Wednesday’s webinar with Dr. Gish is closed. Stay tuned as the webinar will be recorded in it’s entirety, and will be made available. Stay tuned for details! 

Did you know?

Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the seventh most common cancer worldwide. But the major causes of liver cancer— such as chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and cirrhosis— are largely preventable. And treatments for liver cancer are available.

Learn more about liver cancer

Join The Hepatitis B Foundation’s webinar series to learn about the risk factors for liver cancer and the importance of liver cancer screening and surveillance. The expert presenters will describe currently available treatment options and clinical trials.

The first webinar of the series will be Liver Cancer and Hepatitis B: What You Need to Know, presented by Robert G. Gish, MD, an internationally renowned liver diseases expert.

Dr. Gish is a Clinical Professor of Medicine, Section Chief of Hepatology, and Co-Director of the Center for Hepatobiliary Disease and Abdominal Transplantation at the University of California, San Diego Health Systems.

Dr. Gish has an active research program in viral hepatitis and has published more than 600 original articles, abstracts, and book chapters, and more than 120 peer-reviewed publications.

Liver Cancer and Hepatitis B: What You Need to Know webinar details:

Presented by:Dr. Robert G. Gish
Date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Time: 12 noon EST; 9 am PST
Click here to register

For additional accurate, easy-to-understand information on liver cancer, visit the Hepatitis B Foundation’s new, dedicated website, www.LiverCancerConnect.org.

 

Which is Worse Chronic Hepatitis B or C? What Do You Think?

From HBF’s expert Guest Blogger, Dr. Thomas London

If you ask doctors in the United States, or patients with liver disease, or the average person on the street, the answer that you usually get is that Hepatitis C is worse.  Hepatitis C has a bad reputation in the media and with the public. We, at the Hepatitis B Foundation, tend to think that hepatitis B is the worse disease, but until now we have not had any basis for that answer. Now we do.

Recently a group of investigators from Johns Hopkins University published a paper with the title “Comparative Risk of Liver-Related Mortality from Chronic Hepatitis B Versus Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection”.  The answer from this publication is that hepatitis B is more likely to cause liver related death than hepatitis C.  It is worth dwelling on how the authors came to this conclusion: unexpectedly, the AIDS epidemic triggered the studies, which made the conclusion possible.

Acquired immune deficiency disease (AIDS) was first reported in the United States in 1981. The disease appeared to be deadly, and it was thought-to-be confined to homosexual men. In fact, it was initially called Gay Related Immune Deficiency or GRID.  Although it was soon proven that this new immune deficiency disease was not limited to gay men, it is true that men who had sex with men (MSM) accounted for most of the early cases.  In the 1970’s there were several reports that MSM had a high incidence of hepatitis B.  For the initial clinical trial of the then new hepatitis B vaccine, MSM in New York City were selected as the study population because of their high risk for hepatitis B infection. In the trial about 27% of the unvaccinated population became infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) within 18 months, whereas less than 3% of the men who received the vaccine became infected over the same time interval.  This result proved the efficacy of the vaccine.

Fast forward to 1984 before the virus causing AIDS was clearly identified, several researchers suggested that a variant of hepatitis B was the cause. A group of investigators proposed a prospective study of MSM who had been tested for hepatitis B and a newly reported anti-HIV antibody, but who did not have immune deficiency disease.  By following the men over time, the thought was that it would be possible to observe which infection – HIV or hepatitis B or a combination of both – led to AIDS.

MSM were recruited from 4 cities in the USA (Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles); thereafter called the Multicenter Cohort Study (MACS).  Over four time intervals from 1984 to 2002, 6972 MSM were enrolled.  The men were followed until 2010, on average for more than 8 years. Serum samples were collected every 6 months, frozen and stored.  Although the hepatitis C virus had not yet been identified in 1984, all the samples were later tested for HIV, HBV and hepatitis C virus (HCV).  All deaths were recorded as were all liver related deaths.

The results were surprising. Comparable numbers of men were infected with HBV and HCV, but MSM with chronic hepatitis B were twice as likely to die a liver related death as the men with chronic hepatitis C.  The statistical analyses were carefully done to account for the treatments of HCV, HBV, and HIV that were used during the course of the study.  Immunodeficiency further increased the risk of liver death in the men with hepatitis B over that in the men with chronic hepatitis C.

The study showed that in the two and a half decades after 1984, hepatitis B infection was more serious than hepatitis C. Now, in 2012, this difference is even greater. Chronic hepatitis C has become a curable disease.  Chronic hepatitis B is manageable, but not yet curable.  This means that hepatitis B, which was already a worse disease than hepatitis C before the new therapies for HCV, is now a much more important unsolved health problem.

– Dr. Tom London

World Hepatitis Day Reflection: Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad Pakistan

Thank you to Prof., Dr. Muhammad Sadik Memon, MBBS, FCPS (Gastro), FCPS (Med), MACP, MAGA,  for his personal reflection from World Hepatitis Day, 2012 events in Pakistan.

In order to raise awareness on World Hepatitis  Day, Saturday, 28th of July 2012, the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology of the Asian Institute Of Medical Sciences, organized a public awareness and open discussion seminar.

Gastroenterologists, family physicians, GPs, postgraduate students and para- medical staff all participated in the open discussion.

The program was started in the name of “Almighty Allah” and a recitation from the Holy Quran.

Dr Iqbal Haroon, Director of Hajiyani Hospital, was the moderator of the open discussion.

“It  is closer than you think” was the theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day, and the open discussion focused on raising awareness on the different forms of viral  hepatitis: what they are, how they are transmitted, who is at risk, and the various methods of prevention and treatment.

Professor, Dr. Sadik  Memon, organizer of this event,  said that in Pakistan, many patients have lost their lives at the hands of quacks, so Pakistan needs the strictest possible laws to fight against these quacks, and must eradicate these deadly liver diseases.

Dr. Sadik Memon further described how in Pakistan millions of people are infected with HBV . He added that every 10th to 12th individual in the Pakistani population is infected with hepatitis B or C ,which far exceeds the numbers from the last big earthquake  in Pakistan. It is essential that Pakistani doctors unite to save human lives and spare them of these deadly diseases.

The most important aspects of prevention are hepatitis B vaccination, the screening of blood products, sterilized equipments and better hygiene standards in barber shops.

Dr. Waqar, focal person of the Government Hepatitis Program, discussed the efforts of the Sindh government regarding the hepatitis program.  He said that thousands of peoples from Sindh are receiving free interferon and anti- viral therapy from Zakat and Bait-ul-mal funds.

Before the end of open discussion Dr. Aamir Ghouri gave thanks to the audience, the guests of honor, and also the Roche Pharmaceutical company for sponsoring such a wonderful event in this blessed Month of Razman.

After completing the open discussion, DUA, (prayer) was performed for patients who are suffering from liver diseases by the Asian  Institute of Medical Sciences staff. Another open discussion was followed by Iftaar dinner. It was a memorable World Hepatitis Day.

Simple Impediments to Hepatitis B and C Screening

There was an article in the Baltimore Sun a couple of weeks ago that discussed screening for hepatitis B and C.  Approximately 600 million people around the world and five million people in the U.S. are infected with viral hepatitis. According to the Annals of internal Medicine, the CDC reports that there are more deaths attributed to HCV than HIV in the U.S.

The Baltimore doctor believes that ideally, everyone should be tested for hepatitis B and C. Although he is not alone in his thinking, there are many physicians that may not be as aware of the need for screening, and even those in high risk groups may be inadvertently missed. And should a physician decide to screen, there is no ICD code, or International Classification of Diseases code for high-risk based HCV or HBV screening. Insurance companies use these codes to determine if services and payment is warranted. An insurance company may actually deny payment for HBV or HCV testing if they do not believe there is a valid reason for screening.  For example, elevated ALT levels might prompt a physician to “legitimately” screen for viral hepatitis. There is also no problem with ICD codes if you are already diagnosed with HBV or HCV, but you can’t readily be screened using a convenient code. Viral hepatitis does not discriminate. There are certainly high risk groups where HBV or HCV may be more prevalent, but that should not discourage a doctor from screening a patient if she feels it is warranted.

How might a doctor get around a lack of adequate diagnostic codes? We asked a physician who cares for Asian-Americans. This group is at particular risk for HBV infection and should be screened whether they have elevated ALTs or not. He circumvents the lack of an official ICD code with a work-around. He uses the “CMS code V15.85 – Contact with and (suspected) exposure to potentially hazardous body fluids”. This works, but some physicians may not be as comfortable as others with this work-around. Sadly, this likely equates to fewer across-the board screenings for hepatitis B and C.

New HCV testing recommendations are to be released sometime this year by the CDC, and the US Preventive Services Task Force will weigh in on the HCV screening debate as well. Thus, there might be an ICD code for routine HCV screening code available in the near future. Despite established HBV screening guidelines, there are currently no ICD codes for routine HBV screening and to my knowledge, none are to be proposed. Would more patients be routinely screened for HBV if the process were more straight forward? Probably. It is unfortunate that an important screening may be impeded by the lack of a simple diagnostic code. Naturally this is not the only problem, but it is one that should be easy to resolve.

If you think you are at risk for HBV, or wish to be screened for HBV, please tell your doctor that you want to be sure about your HBV status. If you insist, I’m sure he will comply with your wishes and work around any issues regarding inadequate diagnostic screening codes for hepatitis B. Speak up and be your own advocate!