While we were not able to gather together for our annual Hep B United Summit this World Hepatitis Day to discuss best practices, advocate on Capitol Hill, and innovate ideas together to improve testing, hep B vaccination and linkage to care and treatment for hep B in our communities, we did have our Virtual Week of Advocacy. Hep B advocates emailed their Congress members to ensure policy priorities include provisions for hepatitis B elimination -specifically supporting funding for a hep B cure and CDC viral hepatitis programs. You too can advocate for hepatitis B elimination here! The templates make it so easy!
To learn more about past Hep B United Summits, check out previous summit agendas and presentations here.
Join us today, World Hepatitis Day, for a Twitter Storm all day long sharing memories, pics and videos from past Hep B United Summits, Advocacy Days and World Hepatitis Day events. Tag your posts and pics with #ThrowbackWHD, #WorldHepatitisDay, and #HepBUnite. Be sure to tag @HepBUnited and @HepBFoundation on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook!
Hepatitis B is the global pandemic no one talks about, yet nine in ten people worldwide have been infected. In 2015, the World Health Organization estimated that hepatitis B caused 887,000 deaths annually.
Today, 292 million people have chronic hepatitis B1. Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, the number of people living with hepatitis B virus is projected to remain at the current, unacceptably high level for decades and cause 20 million deaths through 2030.
How can this happen? Viral hepatitis infection and death rates far outstrip that of ebola and zika. In fact, you have to combine the death toll from HIV and tuberculosis to find human suffering on par with what viral hepatitis causes around the world each year. How has this pandemic remained so hidden and ignored for so long? There are several factors that have kept hepatitis B off public health’s global radar. It’s a complicated, silent infection, often with few or no symptoms. Those who have it have been silenced by shame and ignorance, and more than two-thirds of those infected with hepatitis B have never been tested and are unaware of their positive status.
And then there’s avoidance by the global healthcare community. The development of a hepatitis B vaccine 40 years ago was thought to signal the death knell of this disease. While new infections have plummeted in North America and Europe, in impoverished countries, the vaccine is often not available or too expensive and infected mothers continue to unknowingly infect their children at birth.
There have been successful hepatitis B immunization campaigns around the world, even in poor, remote areas, but there’s a catch. The Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) provides a free hepatitis B pentavalent vaccine which is effective in children starting at 6 weeks of age. To break the mother-to-child infection cycle, a different and more costly hepatitis B vaccine must be administered as-soon-as-possible, within 12 hours of birth. However, this vaccine is often unavailable and out-of-reach financially in rural Africa and Asia, which is why chronic hepatitis B rates remain stubbornly high and are projected to remain unchanged.
To successfully combat hepatitis B, communities need to launch campaigns that combat stigma and teach how to prevent the spread of the disease through education and immunization. They need the resources to test people for hepatitis B and vaccinate those who need it. They also need to teach healthcare providers how to treat patients with liver damage.
Fortunately, we have started to see change. On May 28, 2016, at the United Nations World Health Assembly, 194 countries made a historic commitment to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. The Global Health Sector Strategy for Viral Hepatitis pledges to reduce deaths from hepatitis B and C by 65 percent and increase treatment by 80 percent. This action is the greatest global commitment to viral hepatitis ever taken.
On July 28, 2016, a campaign called NOhep, the first global movement to eliminate viral hepatitis, launched on World Hepatitis Day by the World Hepatitis Alliance. This day was chosen to mark the birthday of Baruch S. Blumberg, MD, D.Phil, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of the hepatitis B virus.
Many of our partners and other organizations around the world are raising awareness to highlight World Hepatitis Day. Here are some of the activities you can support.
WHO – The World Health Organization is celebrating World Hepatitis Day through its theme: Hepatitis-free future with a strong focus on perinatal transmission. Read more about their efforts here. You can register to join their global virtual event, WHO Commemoration of World Hepatitis Day, on July 28th 1pm-3:15pm CEST here.
Hep B United – Yesterday, in anticipation of World Hepatitis Day, Hep B United kicked off a week of action with a call where we heard about the importance of hepatitis B elimination from hepatitis B advocates and representatives Judy Chu and Grace Meng. You can advocate for hepatitis B elimination here.
Hep B United and the Hepatitis B Foundation will have a #ThrowbackWHD twitter storm all day July 28th, World Hepatitis Day! Partners and hepatitis B advocates are encouraged to share memories from past in-person Hep B United Summits and Advocacy Days. Share your memories, pics, and videos with the hashtags: #ThrowbackWHD #WorldHepatitisDay and #Hepbunite.
Global Liver Institute – On July 28 at 12:30pm-1pm ET, the Global Liver Institute will host GLI LIVE on the Global Liver Institute’s Facebook page. Dr Chari Cohen will discuss the progress and challenges with eliminating hepatitis B globally, and strategies for commemorating World Hepatitis Day.
DiaSorin hosts Dr. Robert Gish, renowned hepatologist and HBF medical director – July 28th, 12 pm ET. Register now for Laboratory Testing for Viral Hepatitis: What’s new and what has changed?
Hep Free Hawaii – On World Hepatitis Day, July 28th at 12pm HST, Hep Free Hawaii will unveil Hawaii’s first Hepatitis B Elimination Strategy. More information and registration here!
CEVHAP and Burnet Institute – The Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis in Asian Pacific and the Burnet Institute is hosting a webinar on July 24th at 11am (GMT+5) to discuss access to hepatitis care, the world of hepatitis amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and literacy on COVID-19 and hepatitis. You can stream it here.
You can be part of this global social justice movement. Take action, speak out, and join the effort to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. In anticipation of World Hepatitis Day 2020, NOhep is asking you to urge governments worldwide to uphold their commitment to eliminate hepatitis B. Add your voice to the open letter here.
For more information, visit the NOhep website, the Hepatitis B Foundation website or Hep B United’s website to learn how to lend your voice to this fight and to help address hepatitis and save lives in your community.
Razavi H. (2020). Global Epidemiology of Viral Hepatitis. Gastroenterology clinics of North America, 49(2), 179–189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gtc.2020.01.001
Hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver which can be caused by infectious diseases, toxins (drugs and alcohol), and autoimmune diseases. The most common forms of viral hepatitis are A, B, C, D, and E. With 5 different types of hepatitis, it can be confusing to know the differences among them all.
While all 5 hepatitis viruses can cause liver damage, they vary in modes of transmission, type of infection, prevention, and treatment.
Hepatitis A (HAV) is highly contagious and spread through fecal-oral transmission or consuming contaminated food or water1. This means that if someone is infected with hepatitis A they can transmit it through preparing and serving food and using the same utensils without first thoroughly washing their hands. Symptoms of HAV include jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, fever, abnormally colored stool and urine, fever, joint pain, and fatigue1. Sometimes these symptoms do not present themselves in an infected person which can be harmful because they can unknowingly spread the virus to other people. Most people who get HAV will feel sick for a short period of time and will recover without any lasting liver damage2. A lot of hepatitis A cases are mild, but in some instances, hepatitis A can cause severe liver damage. Hepatitis A is vaccine preventable and the vaccine is recommended for people living with hepatitis B and C. Read this blog post for a detailed comparison of hepatitis B and hepatitis A!
Hepatitis B (HBV) is transmitted through bodily fluids like blood and semen, by unsterile needles and medical/dental equipment and procedures, or from mother-to-child during delivery1. HBV is considered a “silent epidemic” because most people do not present with symptoms when first infected. This can be harmful to individuals because HBV can cause severe liver damage, including cirrhosis and liver cancer if not properly managed over time3. Hepatitis B can either be an acute or chronic infection meaning some cases last about 6 months while other cases last for a lifetime. In some instances, mostly among people who are infected as babies and young children, acute HBV cases can progress to a chronic infection3. Greater than 90% of babies and up to 50% of young children will develop lifelong infection with hepatitis B if they are infected at a young age.
Hepatitis C (HCV) is similarly transmitted like HBV through bodily fluids, like blood and semen, and by unsterile needles and medical/dental equipment and procedures. Symptoms of HCV are generally similar to HAV’s symptoms of fever, fatigue, jaundice, and abnormal coloring of stool and urine1, though symptoms of HCV usually do not appear until an infected individual has advanced liver disease. Acute infections of hepatitis C can lead to chronic infections which can lead to health complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer1. Read this blog for a detailed comparison of hepatitis B and hepatitis C!
Hepatitis Delta (HDV) infections only occur in persons who are also infected with hepatitis B1,3. Hepatitis Delta is spread through the transfer of bodily fluids from an infected person to a non-infected person. Similar to some other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis Delta can start as an acute infection that can progress to a chronic one. HDV is dependent on the hepatitis B virus to reproduce3. This coinfection is more dangerous than a single infection because it causes rapid damage to the liver which can result in fatal liver failure. Find out more about hepatitis B and hepatitis Delta coinfection here!
Hepatitis E (HEV) is similar to hepatitis A as it is spread by fecal-oral transmission and consumption of contaminated food and water1. It can be transmitted in undercooked pork, game meat and shellfish. HEV is common in developing countries where people don’t always have access to clean water. Symptoms of hepatitis E include fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach pain, jaundice, and nausea. Talk to your doctor if you are a pregnant woman with symptoms as a more severe HEV infection can occur. Many individuals do not show symptoms of hepatitis E infection1. Additionally, most individuals recover from HEV, and it rarely progresses to chronic infection. Read this blog for a detailed comparison of hepatitis B and hepatitis E!
Here is a simple table to further help you understand the differences among hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.
Fortunately, hepatitis viruses are preventable.
Hepatitis A is preventable through a safe and effective vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that children be vaccinated for HAV at 12-23 months or at 2-18 years of age for those who have not previously been vaccinated. The vaccine is given as two doses over a 6-month span1. This vaccine is recommended for all people living with hepatitis B & C infections
Hepatitis B is also preventable through a safe and effective vaccine. The vaccine includes 3 doses over a period of 6 months, and in the U.S. there is a 2-dose vaccine that can be completed in 1-month1,3. Read more here, if you would like to know more about the vaccine series schedule.
Hepatitis C does not have a vaccine, however, the best way to prevent HCV is by avoiding risky behaviors like injecting drugs and promoting harm reduction practices. While there is no vaccine, curative treatments are available for HCV1.
Hepatitis Delta does not have a vaccine, but you can prevent it through vaccination for hepatitis B1,3.
Hepatitis E does not have a vaccine available in the United States. However, there has been a vaccine developed and licensed in China1,2.
An estimated 292 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B and most are unaware of their status. Many at-risk groups are Asian and African descended. This month, we join our global community to observe World Hepatitis Day on July 28th – a day chosen to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the hepatitis B virus Let’s take action and raise awareness to find the “missing millions”!
Not knowing your hepatitis B status can cause long term damage to your liver, so it is important for you to understand risk factors besides ethnicity. The CDC’s Know Hepatitis B Campaign’s fact sheet, “Hepatitis B – Are You At Risk?” is a great resource for sharing basic information on getting tested for hepatitis B. The fact sheet is available in 14 languages including Burmese, Khmer, French, Somali, Amharic, Hmong, and Swahili, among many others!
So if you think you are at risk – what are the next steps? The first thing you can do is visit your healthcare provider to see if you should be tested for hepatitis B.
A simple blood test can check to see if you are infected or at risk for hepatitis B. The hepatitis B panel blood test includes the following tests:
HBsAg (Hepatitis B surface antigen) – A “positive” or “reactive” HBsAg test result means that the person is infected with hepatitis B. If a person tests “positive,” then further testing is needed to determine if this is a new “acute” infection or a “chronic” hepatitis B infection. A positive HBsAg test result means that you are infected and can spread the hepatitis B virus to others through your blood.
anti-HBs or HBsAb (Hepatitis B surface antibody) – A “positive” or “reactive” anti-HBs (or HBsAb) test result indicates that a person is protected against the hepatitis B virus. This protection can be the result of receiving the hepatitis B vaccine or successfully recovering from a past hepatitis B infection. A positive anti-HBs (or HBsAb) test result means you are “immune” and protected against the hepatitis B virus and cannot be infected. You are not infected and cannot spread hepatitis B to others.
anti-HBc or HBcAb (Hepatitis B core antibody) – A “positive” or “reactive” anti-HBc (or HBcAb) test result indicates a past or current hepatitis B infection. The core antibody does not provide any protection against the hepatitis B virus (unlike the surface antibody described above). This test can only be fully understood by knowing the results of the first two tests (HBsAg and anti-HBs). A positive anti-HBc (or HBcAb) test result requires talking to your health care provider for a complete explanation of your hepatitis B status.
As June wraps up Pride Month, it is still important to address LGBTQ+ health and risk factors for hepatitis B. Many resources are available regarding gay and bisexual men’s risk factors for hepatitis B, but information discussing lesbian, bisexual women, and transgender folx for hepatitis B is lacking.
Gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM) have a higher chance of getting hepatitis B. It can be spread through body fluids like semen or blood from an infected person to an uninfected person during unprotected sex.
A research study found that lesbian, bisexual women, and womxn who have sex with womxn (WSW) had significantly higher rates of hepatitis B than the control group due to risk factors like multiple sexual partners, injection drug use, and sex work1. Additionally, potential mothers need to know their hepatitis B status because it can easily transmit from mother-to-child during childbirth.
Being transgender is not a risk factor for hepatitis B (HBV), but some transgender folx may have a higher risk due to discrimination surrounding their gender identity. Discrimination in workplaces or health care facilities can lead transgender individuals to engage in risky behaviors like sex work and exposure to unsterile needles which can put some transgender individuals more at risk than others2. While there is insufficient information regarding hepatitis B and transgender folx, much information exists about hepatitis C (HCV) and its co-infection with hepatitis B. Since both viruses have similar modes of transmission it is not uncommon for someone to be co-infected with HCV and HBV. It is important to get tested for HBV because hepatitis C can become a dominant liver disease which leaves HBV levels virtually undetectable and can cause further liver damage if hepatitis B is not addressed3. This is especially true for individuals being treated with hepatitis C curative Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs), which can lead to hep B reactivation.
For LGBTQ+ individuals living in the United States and who want to know their hepatitis B status, here is a list of LGBTQ+ friendly healthcare providers. If you identify as LGBTQ+, ask your provider to be tested for hepatitis B today. The great news is that if you are not infected, there is a safe and effective vaccine that can prevent you from getting hepatitis B in the future!
On the other side; healthcare professionals have a duty to provide culturally competent care to LGBTQ+ individuals and encourage hepatitis B testing and vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommendations and guidelines for health professionals here.
Fethers, K., Marks, C., Mindel, A., & Estcourt, C. S. (2000). Sexually transmitted infections and risk behaviours in women who have sex with women. Sexually transmitted infections, 76(5), 345–349.https://doi.org/10.1136/sti.76.5.345