Hep B Blog

Protecting Yourself From Liver Cancer While Living with Hepatitis B

This Liver Cancer Awareness Month, we are connecting the dots between hepatitis B and liver cancer. Hepatitis B is responsible for up to 60% of all liver cancer cases worldwide. In fact, some of the highest rates of liver cancer are found in places with extremely high rates of hepatitis B, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Although liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, it is the second most common cause of cancer deaths. Liver cancer prevention should be a priority for all living with hepatitis B. Luckily, there are steps that you can take to prevent liver cancer – whether you are living with hepatitis B or not! 

The Importance of Regular Check-Ups

Did you know that a chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to liver cancer without signs of previous damage such as cirrhosis?  Many people do not realize that chronic hepatitis B is the primary global risk factor for developing liver cancer. Cirrhosis – or scarring or the liver – is often a risk factor for liver cancer, but it is not always the case for those living with hepatitis B. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for family members and sexual partners of infected individuals to get tested as well! Lack of symptoms does not mean that damage is not occurring. 

Visiting a doctor regularly is the best way to prevent liver cancer if you are living with hepatitis B. The standard recommendation for visiting your doctor is every six months however this can vary based upon the severity of your infection. The doctor will take a few blood tests, along with an ultrasound examination of the abdominal area to determine the health of the liver. Based upon these tests and other risk factors, the doctor will be able to determine if liver damage is occurring and can guide you on which steps you should take next. 

If damage is detected early enough, progression to liver cancer can be prevented through highly effective treatments that stop or slow the virus from reproducing in your liver. However, it is important to note that not everyone living with hepatitis B needs treatment. Current treatments have been proven to be most effective when there are signs of active liver damage. Hepatitis B can be managed through regular monitoring by a knowledgeable doctor and lifestyle changes that can go a long way in protecting your body. 

Early detection of liver cancer is extremely important. The average 5-year survival rate once diagnosed with liver cancer ranges from 10% -14%. However, with early detection and proper treatment, those numbers rise to over 50%! This significant difference is because if liver cancer is caught early, a doctor can link you to life-saving treatments including chemotherapy, surgical options, ablation techniques, intra-arterial therapies or a liver transplant. Regular monitoring by a knowledgeable doctor will hopefully identify the markers of liver cancer before it occurs, but if you are living with liver cancer, there are treatment options and resources available to you. 

Preventing Liver Cancer 

Educating oneself is the first step in prevention! If you have hepatitis B, be aware of the risk factors and behaviors that can increase your likelihood of liver damage and liver cancer, such as consuming alcohol and high amounts of junk food, and lack of exercise. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) can also increase your risk of cancer, so it is important to discuss NAFLD risk factors and prevention tips with your doctor. Groups such as the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases all provide free fact sheets, call lines, and literature by experts that can help you understand what may be occurring in your body and to make educated choices. You can also check out our Liver Cancer Connect resource for more information or for liver cancer support. 

The hepatitis B vaccine is also the first anti-cancer vaccine ever created! Remember that the vaccine is typically given in a set of 3 doses. It is extremely important to take all three in order to receive lifelong protection from hepatitis B-related liver cancer. In the U.S., there is also a 2-dose vaccine available, so you can be fully protected with fewer doses! If you are worried about the cost of the birth dose for your infant or the vaccine for yourself, many countries have free health clinics that can administer it or link you to an organization that can help. 

Another key to preventing liver cancer is to get tested for hepatitis B. If you have not received your vaccine and you think you fall into a high-risk group, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Because hepatitis B often has no symptoms, it is important to get screened even if you do not feel ill. An early diagnosis means that you can begin any needed treatment sooner and prevent irreversible damage from occurring. Like the vaccines, your local doctor or health clinic may be able to test you for free or reduced cost – just ask! Some local community groups also provide free hepatitis B testing, so be sure to look out for flyers and announcements about them in your community as well

Join Us For a Twitter Chat for Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

 

 

 

 

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month. Each year in the United States, about 33,000 people get liver cancer and a large portion of liver cancer cases are caused by viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is preventable and when diagnosed and linked to care early, can be treated to prevent liver cancer from developing. The majority of people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are unaware of their status and often find out after serious damage has occurred. Liver cancer is one of the only cancers that continues to rise steadily each year. On Wednesday, October 23 at 3PM ET representatives from Hepatitis B Foundation, CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and NASTAD will co-host a twitter chat to discuss the link between liver cancer and viral hepatitis as well as the importance of engaging communities most affected, particularly patients, in our response.

A large part of our chat this year is centered upon the patient voice. The patient perspective is essential to our efforts to prevent liver cancer and improving the lives of those affected by it. Jacki Chen, one of the Hepatitis B Foundation’s #justB storytellers and Karen Hoyt, a hepatitis C patient advocate with the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable,  will be joining this year’s twitter chat as featured guest to share their unique experiences.

Below are the questions to be discussed during the chat. How can you participate? Join the conversation that day and throughout the month with the hashtag #LiverChat19. Share any resources or strategies you have that raise awareness about the link between liver cancer and hepatitis as well as how to better engage communities most affected, particularly patients, in our work. We also encourage you to share any videos or photos you have of your work in your communities or activities during Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

· Q1: What are things everyone should know about liver cancer, and also the link between hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q2: What can people do to prevent hepatitis, or for those living with hepatitis, what can be done to protect the liver and prevent liver cancer?

· Q3: What are the barriers that keep people from getting screened for hepatitis and liver cancer and how can they be addressed?

· Q4: Why are some communities more vulnerable to hepatitis and liver cancer, and how do we address the disparities?

· Q5: How do we engage communities most affected by hepatitis or liver cancer in our work? Why is this important?

· Q6: What resources are available to educate others about hepatitis B & C and liver cancer? What resources are needed?

· Q7: Who are your key partners in addressing liver cancer? Who would you like to engage more in your work? (Tag them here!)

· Q8: What is one lesson learned or piece of advice for others who want to expand their work on the link between viral hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q9: Centering the voices of patients and liver cancer survivors is incredibly important in improving our response and ensuring their needs are being met. How do you do this in your work? How can we as a community do this better?

Co-hosts and featured partners of the chat include:

· Hepatitis B Foundation – @hepbfoundation

· NASTAD – @NASTAD

· CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis – @cdchep

· CDCNPIN will be moderating the chat – @cdcnpin

· Jacki Chen – @jacki0362

· Karen Hoyt – @hepatitisIhelpC

· Global Liver Institute- @GlobalLiver

· American Liver Foundation- @liverUSA

Confirmed participants and their handles include:

· National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable- @NVHR1

· Hep B United – @hepbunited

· Hep B United Philadelphia – @hepbunitedphila

· Liver Cancer Connect – @LiverCancerConn

· Hepatitis Delta Connect – @HepDConnect

· Hepatitis Education Project – @HepEduProject

· Minnesota Department of Health – @MNHealth

· Hep Free Hawaii – @HepFreeHawaii

· Hawaii Health – @HIgov_Health

· Hep Free NYC – @HepFreeNYC

· MD Anderson Cancer Center – @MDAndersonNews

· AAPCHO – @HepBPolicy

. HHS Viral Hepatitis – HHS_ViralHep

· Kiiza Alexander – @KiizaAlexander

· Minnesota Health Department – @MNHealth

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·Rowaye Ridwan – @otunbaridwan

·Hassan Muhammad Bature – @Hasanb1980

·Lilian Mary Nabuya – @Inabunya

·Wenyue Lu – @lu_wenyue

·Dave Nkengeh – @Davy_Tazinkeng

·Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington D.C. – @HBIDC

· Shakur Xassan – @sheykoshee

·Maryland Cancer Collaborative

Just getting started with Twitter? Do you wish to join the conversation but you don’t know how? Type #LiverChat19 in the search box of the Twitter application to follow the chat, and click on “Latest”. Email michaela.jackson@hepb.org to be added to the list of confirmed participants!

RANN Foundation – Raising Hepatitis B Awareness in India

This post is written by guest blogger Surender, who founded the RANN Foundation – a non-profit organization in India dedicated to educating women and children in a variety of topics – including hepatitis! 

India has one-fifth of the world’s population and carries a large proportion of the global burden of hepatitis B. India harbors 10 to 15 percent of the entire pool of hepatitis B carriers in the world, estimated to be 40 million HBV carriers. About 15 to 25 percent of HBsAg [the hepatitis B surface antigen] carriers are likely to suffer from cirrhosis and liver cancer and may die prematurely. Infections that occur during infancy and childhood have the greatest risk of becoming chronic. Of the 26 million infants born every year in India, approximately one million run the lifetime risk of developing chronic hepatitis B.

RANN Foundation focuses on developing the potential of women and girls to drive long-lasting equitable changes deeply focusing on SDGs mainly 3.3 aims to combat Viral Hepatitis by 2030.

We believe that the best way to unlock human potential is through the power of creative collaboration. That’s why we build partnerships between businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals everywhere to work faster, leaner, and better; to find solutions that last; and to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be, tomorrow.

My Story:

I was a Human Resource Executive in leading thermal power generation company in India. It was 2010 when during a blood donation camp, I got to know that I have Hepatitis B infection. I had never heard about hepatitis b before this incident. It was a shocking moment for me because I had never gone through any blood transfusion. I discussed with family and prepared all of them for screening of hepatitis B. The results were shocking to all of us as three members had infection of Hepatitis B in my family. It was mother to child transmission. I decided to leave my job, which was the only source of earning for me/family, & started education about the diseases in most vulnerable slums & villages in India. Being a survivor, it was my duty to protect future generations. I started my organization RANN Foundation which aims for awareness and prevention of viral hepatitis in India.

The social stigma surrounding Hepatitis B

I never hide my hepatitis B positive status. In fact, on every occasion, I share my story, but anyone who is living with hepatitis B cannot reveal his/her status due to discrimination in family & society. Discrimination and marginalization of people living with the chronic infection is a major concern that majorly impacts the lives of patients in India. Misconceptions and stigma attached to the disease often leads to marginalization and discrimination against patients. My fight against the disease focuses on multiple fronts – prevention of hepatitis B through vaccination camps of dropout children, conducting education programs on viral hepatitis in schools & urban slums, and providing psychosocial support to patients. Around 1.5 lakh deaths annually and almost 60 million Indians affected, Viral Hepatitis continues to be a serious public health concern. Most of the mortality due to viral hepatitis is attributed to hepatitis B and C, which are also known as silent killers as more than 80% of the infected aren’t aware of their infection.

Project NOhepDelhi: A School Awareness Program

Under Project NOhep Delhi a school awareness program is initiated by RANN Foundation in collaboration with Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (Govt of Delhi) to educate students and teachers about viral hepatitis. The role of students in creating awareness and causing behavioral changes among the general population could go a long way in preventing the spread of viral Hepatitis.

The effort aimed at increasing students’ awareness and knowledge of hepatitis transmission and prevention should, therefore, be of special interest, especially among adolescents and young adults.

At this stage, most detrimental lifelong lifestyles and behaviors are adopted like substance use, alcoholism, etc. which are also a predisposing factor for the contraction of hepatitis infection and other infections. The school is a place where viral hepatitis information can get to adolescents and the teachers are potent instruments for giving out this information. Hence, the need to assess the knowledge of teachers & students about viral hepatitis.

Training of the Students: Senior girls are in the process of taking sessions on viral hepatitis to educate their juniors and other people living nearby their home. Girls were excited while giving their names for the training and showed dedication throughout the program.

Achievements

Project HASI:- RANN in collaboration with Cognizance (IIT- Roorkee) has taken the initiative to educate and empower the rural and urban-rural women of Uttarakhand. We launched the project in October 2018. So far, we have impacted and supported over 4,000 beneficiaries directly and over 1500 indirectly through our community trainers in Haryana & Uttarakhand.

NOhep With Max India Foundation :- We have successfully conducted immunization camps with Max India Foundation catering to 800 children and have provided with hepatitis B vaccinations.

Project NOhep Delhi :- RANN in collaboration with Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (Govt. of Delhi) has taken the initiative to educate and empower the urban slums women & students of govt schools of New Delhi. We have started project Nohep Delhi in 17 govt schools – appox 35 thousand children) & 3 major slums to conduct awareness program on viral hepatitis. An intensive campaign for awareness generation will be held using different methodS such as health awareness camp, meeting, events, street plays, one to one communication, big events and sensitization with various groups of the society

#Tri4ACure: Racing For Hepatitis B Awareness & Cure Research

On September 8th, 2019, Edwin Tan participated in one of the toughest and most exhausting triathlons in the world: the Ironman. The Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.22-mile run raced in that order. It was Edwin’s first time racing in an Ironman, and although it took him over 13 hours – on a cold, rainy day – to finish, he did not give up! 

The completion of the Ironman race marks the end of Edwin’s #Tri4aCure journey, which officially began in June 2019. Since the beginning of the summer, Edwin has competed in 6 races – over 336 miles – to raise money and awareness for hepatitis B research, patient outreach, and education; we are extremely proud of his accomplishments! 

Edwin Tan – a 29-year-old mechanical design engineer from Minneapolis, Minnesota – was diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2014. Like many others, Edwin’s diagnosis came as a surprise. After he learned his hepatitis B status, Edwin decided to learn all that he could about the infection. Through his research, he found that one of the best ways to keep his liver healthy was through small lifestyle changes. Edwin began to pursue healthier life choices by increasing the amount of exercise he was getting and paying closer attention to his diet. 

Edwin’s decision to compete in an Ironman was driven by his hepatitis B journey. Researching the topic made him aware of the lack of education and extreme stigma surrounding the illness. The Ironman was a testament to the strength, endurance, & determination that those living with hepatitis B display each day.  “The theme of this race for me was perseverance, which I felt was fitting for my hepatitis B story, “ said Edwin. “Completing an Ironman, which is regarded as one of the most difficult one-day athletic events, serves as a good example that we each can accomplish anything we want as long as we believe in ourselves.” 

In addition to being one of the Foundation’s supporters, Edwin is also a #justB storyteller! His video is just as inspirational and motivating as his #Tri4ACure journey. “I’m going to prove what I can achieve even while living with hepatitis B,” said Edwin in reference to competing in an Ironman. 

The Hepatitis B Foundation is thrilled to have been a part of such a positive, encouraging adventure. Although the races may be over, you can still contribute to Edwin’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for a cure for hepatitis B right here

Fighting For Fair Treatment Access: Improved Medication Access In The U.S.

Ensuring that people with hepatitis B have access to affordable medications is one of our top priorities. If you or someone you know is currently prescribed Vemlidy (tenofovir alafenamide), entecavir, or tenofovir, we have important news that could help make your medications more affordable.

Vemlidy will once again be covered under CVS Caremark

The Hepatitis B Foundation, along with our network of patients, providers and partners, has successfully advocated for improved access to the hepatitis B medication Vemlidy in the US! In July 2019 CVS Caremark – one of the nation’s leading pharmacy benefit managers – stopped providing coverage for Vemlidy. This decision impacted thousands of Americans who rely on this life-saving drug to manage their hepatitis B.
Thanks in part to our advocacy, the company announced last week that they will resume coverage of Vemlidy for their plan members as early as October 2019! In addition, Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of Vemlidy, is offering increased patient assistance for patients until the coverage takes effect.
What’s next: If you or a loved one are taking Vemlidy and have a CVS Caremark prescription plan, the date that coverage will resume depends on your plan type. On October 1, 2019, Vemlidy will be processed for those under the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary. For those with a Value Formulary, Vemlidy will be covered beginning on January 1, 2020.
To offset the costs, until January 1, 2020, Gilead Sciences will provide $1,000 a month (for up to $5,000) to offset the costs of treatment. Those interested can go to Gilead’s website and apply for a co-pay card ; insurance is not needed.
Low-cost options for patients on entecavir and tenofovir
n June 2019, the Hepatitis B Foundation partnered with Rx Outreach , a nonprofit mail order pharmacy, to offer two of the most common hepatitis B medications at low cost to eligible patients.
Eligible individuals can get a 30-day supply of tenofovir for $25 or a entecavir for $45. Eligibility is based upon household income, not on insurance status or prescription drug coverage. Our partnership with Rx Outreach will help to fill a gap in access to affordable medication and help to lessen the burden of one of the many forms of discrimination that those living with hepatitis B must face.
Visit the Rx Outreach website to learn more: https://rxoutreach.org/hepb/

The History of National African Immigrant and Refugee HIV & Hepatitis Awareness Day 2019

 

Each year in September, the Hepatitis B Foundation recognizes National African Immigrant and Refugee HIV and Hepatitis Awareness Day (NAIRHHA). Founded by advocates in Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and New York, NAIRHHA Day has been observed annually on September 9th by healthcare professionals, awareness campaigns, and other organizations since 2014. Although not yet nationally recognized, the multicultural AIDS Coalition (MAC) and the Coalition Against Hepatitis B for People of African Origin (CHIPO) are working to establish NAIRHHA day as its own federally designated awareness day. As explained by Chioma Nnaji, Director at the Multicultural AIDS Coalition’s Africans For Improved Access (AFIA) program, there is a great need to establish NAIRHHA day as its own day.  “Several of the current awareness days are inclusive of African immigrant communities, but do not comprehensively address their unique social factors, cultural diversity as well as divergent histories and experiences in the US.”

Why NAIRHHA Day? 

People born outside of the U.S. often face different health challenges than those born in the country and face various barriers to accessing important healthcare services. African immigrants (AI) are disproportionately burdened by HIV and viral hepatitis. Advocates for NAIRHHA Day recognized the need to address these health issues in the community and thought that a combined awareness day would be the most effective way to reach the largest number of people impacted. 

Hepatitis B presents a significant public health burden for many African countries, and subsequent immigrant populations living in the United States. Although data is limited on hepatitis B infection among African immigrant (AI) and refugee communities in the U.S., studies have shown infection rates are high – between 5 and 18%1,2,3,4,5. One community study in Minnesota even found AIs accounting for 30% of chronic hepatitis B infections 6. AI communities are also known to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, with diagnosis rates six times higher than the general U.S. population7. Despite this alarming disparity, HIV and hepatitis B awareness, prioritization, and funding has remained limited for this population.

Two of the largest barriers to testing for HIV and viral hepatitis among African immigrants are lack of awareness and stigma. Cultural and religious values shape the way people view illness, and there can be fears around testing and diagnosis of illness, and moral implications for why someone may feel they are at risk. While stigma about HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B often come from within one’s own community and culture, it is primarily driven by lack of awareness. Oftentimes, awareness is low in an individual’s home country because of limited hepatitis education, resources, and healthcare infrastructure.  When they arrive in the U.S., awareness remains low for similar reasons. Community health workers and physicians are vital stakeholders to raise community awareness in a culturally sensitive way to help identify current infections and prevent future ones through vaccination.

Recognizing NAIRHHA Day is important in order to 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. 

What has been done so far? 

The path to federal recognition has been a slow process, but progress has been made! Check out the timeline below for a brief overview of what has been accomplished since the day was created: 

2014:

    • Inaugural city-wide events in Houston, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Washington D.C.; Maryland; Seattle, Washington; New York; Ohio and Philadelphia.
    • A national petition was created and 40% of the petitioners are from or live in Massachusetts; 60% of signers are from 33 other states across the US

2015:

2016:

    • Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a proclamation in Massachusetts
    • Created an informational blog post for the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable 
    • Joined the African immigrant Hepatitis/HIV Twitter chat (#AIHHchat)

2017:

    • Hosted a national webinar focused on barriers and strategies  addressing HIV and hepatitis B among African immigrants
    • Official request to HIV.gov to officially recognize NAIRHHA Day

2018:

    • Hosted an online panel discussion addressing HIV and HBV stigma among African immigrant 
    • New social media campaign
    • National Webinar with HBF and CHIPO focused on stigma

September marks the unofficial beginning of National African Immigrant Heritage Month (NAIHM) – state and federal officials in over thirty states recognize September as NAIHM despite it not being federally declared –  which is why NAIRHHA Day is held on September 9th. Federal recognition would significantly boost awareness within the community and allow for the creation of much-needed resources like culturally sensitive education tools. It would also help to disseminate the important health messages on a larger, national scale. 

This year, the Hepatitis B Foundation and CHIPO are excited to be sponsoring four community events with partners throughout the U.S. to commemorate NAIRHHA day and promote hepatitis B and HIV education and testing in AI communities.

For more information about NAIRHHA Day: 

  • Follow NAIRHHA Day on Twitter @NAIRHHA
  • Check out our blog posts on NAIRHHA Day
  • Visit the CHIPO website and click here for downloadable badges and infographics
  • Contact Chioma, Director of the Multicultural AIDS Coalition, at cnnaji@mac-boston.org to get involved in advocacy for NAIRHHA Day

References:

  1. Kowdley KV, Wang CC, Welch S, Roberts H, Brosgart CL. (2012). Prevalence of chronic hepatitis B among foreign-born persons living in the United States by country of origin. Hepatology, 56(2), 422-433. And Painter. 2011. The increasing burden of imported chronic hepatitis B—United States, 1974-2008. PLoS ONE 6(12): e27717.
  2. Chandrasekar, E., Song, S., Johnson, M., Harris, A. M., Kaufman, G. I., Freedman, D., et al. (2016). A novel strategy to increase identification of African-born people with chronic hepatitis B virus infection in the Chicago metropolitan area, 2012-2014. Preventing Chronic Disease, 13, E118.
  3.  Edberg, M., Cleary, S., & Vyas, A. (2011). A trajectory model for understanding and assessing health disparities in Immigrant/Refugee communities. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 13(3), 576-584.
  4.  Kowdley, K. V., Wang, C. C., Welch, S., Roberts, H., & Brosgart, C. L. (2012). Prevalence of chronic hepatitis B among foreign‐born persons living in the united states by country of origin. Hepatology, 56(2), 422-433.
  5.  Ugwu, C., Varkey, P., Bagniewski, S., & Lesnick, T. (2008). Sero-epidemiology of hepatitis B among new refugees to Minnesota. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 10(5), 469-474.
  6.  Kim WR, Benson JT, Therneau TM, Torgerson HA, Yawn BP, Melton LJ 3d. Changing epidemiology of hepatitis B in a U.S. community. Hepatology 2004;39(3):811–6.
  7.  Blanas, D. A., Nichols, K., Bekele, M., Lugg, A., Kerani, R. P., & Horowitz, C. R. (2013). HIV/AIDS among African-born residents in the United States. Journal of immigrant and minority health, 15(4), 718–724.

Printable Hepatitis Delta Fact Sheets for At-Risk Populations (Available in 5 Languages!)

 

Hepatitis delta is estimated to affect 15-20 million people globally who are also living with hepatitis B. Hepatitis delta’s geographic distribution is not uniform, and does not always follow regions of highest hepatitis B prevalence. Although more recent data is sparse, regions of higher coinfection are thought to be in Mongolia, Eastern Europe (particularly Romania, Russia, Georgia, Turkey), Pakistan, the Middle East and the Amazonian River Basin. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) recommends that hepatitis B patients from these areas be tested for hepatitis delta. If you are a community member or community health worker or physician, please utilize our printable fact sheets to help raise awareness about hepatitis B and delta!

Fact sheets are available in 5 languages, including English, Mongolian, Romanian, Russian and Spanish!

English for Patients    English for Providers

Mongolian for Patients   Mongolian for Providers

Romanian for Patients   Romanian for Providers

Russian for Patients   Russian for Providers

Spanish for Patients   Spanish for Providers

For more information on hepatitis B and delta coinfection, visit www.hepdconnect.org or contact us at connect@hepdconnect.org.

CVS Caremark : Re-Add Vemlidy To Your Formulary

UPDATE: The Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B United, along with our network of patients, providers and partners, has successfully advocated for improved access to the hepatitis B medication Vemlidy in the US.! In July 2019 CVS Caremark – a subsidiary of CVS Health and one of the nation’s leading pharmacy benefit managers  stopped providing coverage for Vemlidy. This decision impacted thousands of Americans who rely on this life-saving drug to manage their hepatitis B.

Our members took swift action. Together, we sent over 20 letters from partner organizations and gathered over 250 individual signatures for a petition encouraging CVS Caremark to provide coverage for this essential medication. 
The company announced last week that they will resume coverage of Vemlidy for their plan members as early as October 2019! Thank you to everyone who helped us to advocate for this important change. We firmly believe that all FDA-approved medications should be available for doctors to prescribe to their patients, and this change will ensure that those on CVS Caremark plans have access to this life-saving drug.
What’s Next:
On October 1, 2019, Vemlidy will be processed for those under the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary. For those with a Value Formulary, Vemlidy will be covered beginning on January 1, 2020.
Until January 1st, Gilead Sciences – the creators of Vemlidy – will provide $1,000 a month (for up to $5,000) to offset the costs of treatment. Those interested can go to Gilead’s website and apply for a co-pay card; insurance is not needed.
Thank you to everyone who signed the petition, wrote a letter, or simply shared the information. Because of you, those who rely on Vemlidy now have one less barrier to accessing their needed treatment!

A few months ago, CVS Caremark – a subsidiary of CVS Health – announced their intentions to remove Vemlidy from their list of covered medications, or formulary. With over 2.2 million individuals in the United States living with chronic hepatitis B, this decision impacts thousands of Americans who rely on this life-saving drug to prevent cirrhosis and liver cancer.

CVS Caremark is the second-largest Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) in the United States. As a PBM, Caremark manages prescription drug benefit plans for payers including health insurers and large employers. One of their main tasks is to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers and develop and maintain formularies on behalf of health insurers, which influence which drugs are available to patients on their prescription drug plan and determine out-of-pocket costs. Negotiations between PBMs and drug companies are common. However, they create a dangerous, unstable health and financial situation for those suffering from chronic illnesses.

When it comes to the treatment of chronic illnesses like hepatitis B, medical decisions are best made based upon knowledgeable and informed discussions between the doctor and the patient. After all, doctors have been tracking and monitoring how the virus impacts an individual for many months, if not years, and a patient is aware of how their body reacts to certain medications. CVS Caremark’s decision to remove Vemlidy from their formularies limits the ability of providers to make the best treatment choice for their individual hepatitis B patients.

Vemlidy is one of just three first-line hepatitis B treatments. First-line treatments are medications that have been proven to be highly effective with the least amount of side effects. For some individuals, this drug is the best option, as other FDA treatments can increase their risk of kidney disease and bone density loss. Hepatitis B expert and Medical Director of the Hepatitis B Foundation Robert G Gish, MD, notes two separate studies where tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) (Vemlidy) had lower amounts of bone density loss and kidney impairment than tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (entecavir), another first-line treatment. In order to properly help their patients, doctors need to have a full range of tools at their disposal. All FDA approved medications should be available for doctors to choose from.

The Hepatitis B Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board is also concerned about the negative health impacts of Caremark’s decision. “TAF is less likely to cause adverse bone mineral density and renal dysfunctions than Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF). This is true not only for patients at risk of these complications but the overall hepatitis B patient population as demonstrated in clinical studies comparing TAF and TDF. By removing Vemlidy from the formulary plan, CVS Caremark is implementing a significant barrier to thousands of Americans who may need and/or rely on this drug to manage their hepatitis B….We are not advocating that all hepatitis B patients have to be treated with TAF. We believe that this decision should be made by the patient’s doctor with the patient.”

What Does This Mean: 

Now that Vemlidy has been removed from Caremark’s list of covered treatments, those living with chronic hepatitis B will either have to pay the full price or switch to another medication. To put this into perspective, the average retail price of Vemlidy is $1,350 USD a month. The average cash price reached $1,650 USD in July. There is no generic version of the drug. Like other hepatitis B treatments, Vemlidy must be taken daily over the course of several years to be effective; an individual paying the average retail price would have to pay approximately $16,200 a year to access their medication.

Others will be forced to change from Vemlidy to a similar treatment that is cheaper, but may be less effective with safety issues. This practice is known as non-medical switching: when insurers or PBMs make changes to a formulary primarily due to financial negotiations with manufacturers, in exchange for greater market share.

According to the Alliance for Patient Access, non-medical switching is associated with poor health outcomes. One of their recent studies found that patients who had been switched off their preferred medication experienced complications from the new medication. One in 10 reported being hospitalized for complications after the switch, approximately 40% stopped taking their medication completely, and 60% reported side effects from the new medication. These complications are extremely dangerous for individuals taking hepatitis B medication, as stopping suddenly and without consulting an expert can cause the virus to flare and increase the risk of liver disease, and liver cancer.

Taking Action

Hep B United (HBU) – a program of the Hepatitis B Foundation and a national coalition of over 40 organizations – has started a petition and will be sending a letter to CVS Caremark.

Individuals can ask CVS Caremark to reinstate Vemlidy by signing this petition! Organizations can add their names to HBU’s official letter commenting on Caremark’s decision. We hope that CVS Caremark will honor their commitment to the health of Americans and add Vemlidy back on their formularies!

The Global Need for Hepatitis B Immunization

In the United States, August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM)! During this time, health care providers, educators, and advocates use their resources to inform the public about the safety and importance of vaccines. NIAM was established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to encourage individuals of all ages to stay up-to-date with their vaccines and make sure that they are protected. The modern hepatitis B vaccine has been widely used – with over 1 billion doses given – since it was created in 1985, and has been proven to be one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. So why do we need to promote the hepatitis B vaccine during NIAM? 

United States: 

On a national level, vaccination rates for hepatitis B are far below where they should be despite being the most effective way to prevent transmission. In the United States, while 91% of children complete the hepatitis B vaccine series, only 64% of children who are born in hospitals are given the hepatitis B birth dose (first dose of the vaccine) as recommended by the CDC – which means that there is much room for improvement. And without the follow-up doses, children are still vulnerable to potential exposures; one dose of the vaccine is not enough. 

Adults in the United States have extremely low rates of vaccination, primarily because many were born before the vaccine became a healthcare standard and mandated for school. According to the CDC, just 25% of adults have received all three doses. Coupled with the recent increase in injection drug use, low vaccination rates among adults have been driving a rise in acute hepatitis B cases across the nation. The good news is that adults can be fully vaccinated with just 2 doses of the Heplisav-B vaccine! This new vaccine has proven to be highly effective and can be completed in just one month.  

Globally: 

Internationally, vaccine rates differ from country to country due to issues with storage, access, affordability, general awareness and priorities. In July 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 189 countries now provide the vaccine for infants on a national level, but the global coverage of the birth dose is just 42%. The birth dose is significant for a number of reasons. Ninety percent of babies and up to 50% of young children will progress to chronic hepatitis B if they are infected. Since only 10% of the 292 million chronically infected individuals know about their infection, there is the potential for friends or family members to unknowingly transmit the virus to an infant or young child. In addition, a mother who is unaware of her status has the potential to pass the virus to her newborn via the delivery process. The birth dose significantly lowers the risk of transmission in both of the previous scenarios. That is why it is critical pregnant women are tested early in their pregnancy so they are aware of their infection and can ensure the birth dose is available.

In some countries, the pentavalent vaccine is offered. This vaccine protects against five diseases, including hepatitis B. However, it cannot be administered until the baby is at least 6 weeks old, which leaves a gap in the baby’s protection. The monovalent hepatitis B vaccine should be given to all infants in order to make sure they are covered during this vulnerable time period. It is especially important for infants born to hepatitis B surface antigen positive  (HBsAg +) mothers to receive the monovalent vaccine within 12-24 hours of birth to prevent transmission. 

Vaccines are also essential for healthcare workers. WHO estimates that out of the 3 million healthcare workers who are exposed to bloodborne diseases a year, approximately 2 million of those exposures are to hepatitis B. These exposures, which largely occur in countries where hepatitis B is common, put unvaccinated healthcare workers at risk. International recommendations list hepatitis B as one of the essential vaccines  for health occupations. WHO also reports that unsanitary healthcare practices, such as reusing sharp objects that have not been sterilized following proper infection control practices, were responsible for nearly 2 million hepatitis B infections globally in 2010. Infections from an accidental exposure can easily be avoided with the vaccine!

NIAM is a reminder that a vaccine is only effective at preventing disease when it is used widely. Governments, healthcare providers, and individuals all play an important role in ensuring that people of all ages – especially high-risk individuals – are protected. You can do your part today by asking your doctor for the 3-panel hepatitis B blood test. If your results come back negative (HBsAg -, HBsAb -, and HBcAb -), ask them to begin the vaccination series! In two or three simple doses, you can be protected from the largest risk factor for liver disease and liver cancer!

Hepatitis B is NOT A Genetic Disease – And Here’s Why

There are many misconceptions about the hepatitis B virus. One recurring one is the myth that hepatitis B is a genetic or hereditary disease. The belief is that because multiple family members can be infected by hepatitis B, it must be a virus that runs in families. This is not true. Hepatitis B is NOT genetic. Hepatitis B is spread through direct contact with infected blood. Although transmission can occur a number of different ways, it does not happen at conception or while the child is developing in the uterus. 

Let’s start by breaking down what it means for something to be genetic or hereditary: 

A genetic disease is caused by an error in a person’s genes and is   carried by an individual in their genes. This type of disease may be passed on to a person’s child (which means it is hereditary) or it can occur spontaneously as a result of a gene mutation while a child is growing in the womb. Genes – which make up each of our unique DNA strands – are passed on to a child from both the mother and the father. Therefore, if a mother or father carries a certain hereditary disease or genetic trait, such as brown hair or green eyes, the child has the ability to have that as well. 

Hepatitis B is not a genetic disease because it does not exist in a person’s genes. It is not carried in the egg of a woman or the sperm of a man. The hepatitis B virus exists in the liver cells and circulates in the bloodstream. Unlike a genetic disease, a person is not born with the hepatitis B virus already in their bodies. Instead, the virus is passed from mother to baby during childbirth through infected blood passing from the mother to the child during the physical delivery process. If a pregnant woman tests positive for hepatitis B, she can pass the virus to her newborn through infected blood and tiny tears in the skin that occur during childbirth. Oftentimes, these tears are unable to be seen by the human eye but can still allow for the virus to pass through and make direct contact with mucous membranes (“wet skin”) of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth of the infant

A number of different factors play a role in determining if a newborn will contract hepatitis B from their mother: the mother’s viral load levels, the mother’s knowledge of her infection, and if the newborn receives post-exposure prophylaxis. Post-exposure prophylaxis is the key to preventing mother-to-child transmission and consists of two parts: the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG). Both shots need to be administered 1) in two different limbs and 2) within 12 hours of birth in order to be as effective as possible. Once the shots have been given, the infant should complete the standard hepatitis B vaccine schedule in order to ensure that they are protected for life! *Please note that HBIG is not recommended by WHO, so it may not be recommended or available in all countries.

Commonly Asked Questions: 

It can be difficult to understand facts when they do not align with what you have been told for many years, so we’ve answered some of the most common responses to our information below: 

  1.  If it is not genetic, how is it sexually transmitted? 

 This question goes back to the topic of genes. A genetic disease differs from a sexually transmitted disease because of where the virus is hosted during transmission from one individual to another. A genetic disease is given to a person via cellular DNA while a baby is developing in the mother’s womb. Sexual transmission occurs because the virus is present in blood and sexual fluids and can be transmitted through very tiny, microscopic tears as a result of sexual intercourse.

2.  If it’s not genetic, why do multiple members of my family have it? 

Families tend to share objects – and that’s okay! However, sharp objects like earrings and body jewelry or personal care items like razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes, can make tiny, microscopic cuts and abrasions in our skin that bleed. Sometimes, we don’t even notice! When a family member uses an object with trace amounts of infected blood and they also have a wound, such as a mouth sore,  cut, or freshly shaved skin, the virus can spread to the uninfected individual. Because hepatitis B is so infectious (at least 50 times more infectious than HIV!), even small amounts of infected blood can cause a person to become infected. Therefore, it is recommended that personal items and sharp objects are not shared – even between family members, or ensure all family members are properly vaccinated for hepatitis B and confirm they are protected

Accidents also occur frequently in households, and sometimes blood is spilled. The virus can live on surfaces outside of the body, so it is essential to properly clean up any blood spills. The key to safely cleaning up blood and killing the virus is to wear gloves and use a fresh diluted bleach solution of 1 part bleach mixed with 9 parts water. 

It’s extremely important to note that infected blood must come into contact with uninfected blood or a mucous membrane for transmission to occur. A person cannot become infected from skin-to-skin contact such as shaking hands or hugging, sharing utensils or food prepared by an infected individual, or even kissing.

Prevention: 

The best thing to remember is that hepatitis B is preventable, even if a child is born to a mother living with chronic hepatitis B! Always remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after any possible exposure to blood. In addition, any family members and loved ones who test negative for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and did not recover from a past infection (HBcAb total negative) should get vaccinated to prevent any possible transmission. The vaccine is one of the most effective vaccines in the world!