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I Have Hepatitis B; Can I Get Married?

At the Hepatitis B Foundation, we answer thousands of calls, social media messages, and emails a year from individuals affected by hepatitis B. One of the most common questions we receive is: If I have hepatitis B, can I still get married? 

To put it simply, yes, a person living with hepatitis B can get married. In fact, a healthy relationship can be a source of love and support for those who may feel alone in their diagnosis. Transmission of hepatitis B can easily be prevented if your partner is vaccinated! Any future children can also be vaccinated starting as a newborn to help prevent transmission, even if the mother is hepatitis B surface antigen positive (HBsAg+)!

If your partner is waiting for the vaccine or is unable to be vaccinated for some reason, there are other precautions that one can take to prevent transmission: practice safe sex by using a condom, properly wrap all wounds, clean up any spilled blood with gloves and a fresh solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, and don’t share sharp personal items (razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, and body jewelry). This list may seem like a lot, but they are mostly things that we do every day without thinking much about it! 

Physically, there are no barriers that prevent an individual living with hepatitis B from getting married. The question often stems from a place of fear that is fueled by the stigma and discrimination around them. Oftentimes, we give fear too much power in our lives. It can control our actions and cause us to isolate ourselves. It’s important to remember that an individual is not their diagnosis. The essence of who you are as a person has not changed! 

Many of our #justB storytellers are leading happily married lives with supportive spouses who help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Chenda was already engaged when she first discovered that she was living with hepatitis B. She said, “ When my fiance called, I was scared to answer but I told him the truth. He said ‘I love you’ and encouraged me to see a doctor”. Chenda and her husband now have a baby who they made sure was protected from the virus! Another storyteller, Heng, shares how he felt when the woman he was in love with told him that she was living with hepatitis B. After she told him, he got tested and found out he was already protected due to the vaccine! They later married and had children. “We make better lifestyle choices because of her illness, but we don’t let it define our lives”. 

Hepatitis B is not a weakness. Each day, millions of people living with chronic hepatitis B make the choice to wake up and live life to the fullest. Like many others, Edwin – one of our new #just B storytellers – was surprised by his diagnosis. Instead of letting it hold him back, he decided to show the world how strong he was by competing in a series of rigorous athletic competitions to set an example for others like him. “I want to show that Hepatitis B is not a condition that debilitates someone,” said Edwin.  “We can triumph through adversity.” 

Our #justB storytellers are examples of hope, inspiration, and strength; they are people living their truths.They also remind us that the difficulties that we face in life can make us stronger as a person. Despite the fear that Bright felt, he persevered and took action. “Slowly I started to have days when I wasn’t hopeless, when I could face the unknown. I talked to my doctors, did my own research, and made my own decisions….Now I realize I have changed: I am more resilient than ever before.”

Hepatitis B and D Coinfection: A Public Health Crisis in Mongolia

 

Mongolia is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries yet is home to the highest infection rates of hepatitis B and D coinfection worldwide1. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 5-10% of the nearly 300 million global hepatitis B patients are co-infected with hepatitis D. Hepatitis D is the most severe form of viral hepatitis, and greatly increases the risk of cirrhosis, scarring of the liver, and liver cancer; with seven out of 10 patients progressing within 10 years 4. In Mongolia, 70% of hepatitis B patients are coinfected with hepatitis D, and the country is known for having the highest rates of liver cancer on the planet2,3. These statistics are startling and highlight a public health crisis for Mongolia, where most families have at least one family member affected 2.

How are people getting infected?

Historically, healthcare-related exposures are suspected to be the biggest risk for contracting hepatitis in Mongolia. Despite the 1993 national policy was set to regulate the multi-use of single-use syringes in healthcare settings, effective sterilization practices, and medical staff training, proper inspections remain an ongoing issue. Healthcare workers themselves are also at risk, with requirements for hepatitis B vaccination set by the Ministry of Health recently in 20145. Although routine infant vaccination for hepatitis B began in 19916, older populations remain at risk or are susceptible to exposures.

Treatment Access

For a nation so widely affected by liver disease, as of 2015, skilled physicians and liver transplant experts are sparse – with only one reported team performing transplants in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city1. Fibroscan, CT scans, and liver biopsies; routine screening tools for liver disease and liver cancer, have only been introduced in recent years, and are still not routinely used for liver cancer screening as recommended by WHO7. This lack of surveillance leaves most patients to endure late diagnoses. Due to the rural landscape, where nearly 30% of the population lives below the poverty line10 and historically nomadic lifestyle accessing care is a challenge. Access to treatment for hepatitis B is additionally a challenge, and traditional medicines might be utilized. Pegylated interferon, the only current and somewhat effective treatment for hepatitis B and D coinfection, was registered about 10 years ago in Mongolia and is still not covered by its national healthcare system, making it too expensive for most low and middle-income families8. With the help of partnerships, the government has integrated funding for palliative care for liver cancer patients, with most facilities centralized around the capital city7. With a failing insurance system and little government prioritization for prevention and treatment, many are calling on the World Health Organization (WHO), pharmaceutical companies and NGOs to step in to curb the crisis9.

Hope

Mongolia’s crisis has not been left unaddressed. Over the last 10 years, Mongolia’s government has prioritized combatting hepatitis, developing its first viral hepatitis national strategy in 2010, and focusing on prevention, affordable treatment, and public awareness programs. Admirably, coverage under the national insurance plan for antivirals began in 2016, greatly subsidizing the cost of hepatitis B treatment11. These efforts did not go unnoticed, and in 2018, WHO praised Mongolia’s efforts in moving towards the elimination of hepatitis B and C, recognizing its successes in its national program, “Whole-Liver Mongolia”. Another program, “Hepatitis Free Mongolia”, an initiative of the Flagstaff International Relief Effort (FIRE), Flagstaff Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Ulaanbaatar and the WHO, offers free hepatitis education, screening, vaccination and care for those infected. The project also trains healthcare providers and offers free exams, diagnostic services and patient counseling; a vital service for many who may not be able to access or afford these services otherwise. Since 2011, the project, along with FIRE’s Love the Liver program have tested nearly 9,000 people for hepatitis B, screened 6,000 for liver cancer and performed over 3,000 specialist exams, and, in a country of only 3 million people, has made a meaningful impact. The effort is also unofficially supported by Mongolia’s Ministry of Health, who is continually investing in efforts to curb the burden of hepatitis.

References:

1. “Viral Hepatitis in Mongolia: Situation and Response.” World Health Organization, 2015, iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/13069/9789290617396_eng.pdf.

2. “Hepatitis: A Crisis in Mongolia.” World Health Organization, 2017, www.who.int/westernpacific/news/feature-stories/detail/hepatitis-a-crisis-in-mongolia.

3. Rizzetto, Mario. (2016). The adventure of delta. Liver International. 36. 135-140. 10.1111/liv.13018.

4. Abbas, Z., Abbas, M., Abbas, S., & Shazi, L. (2015). Hepatitis D and hepatocellular carcinoma. World journal of hepatology, 7(5), 777–786.

5. Baatarkhuu, Oidov & Uugantsetseg, G & Munkh-Orshikh, D & Naranzul, N & Badamjav, S & Tserendagva, Dalkh & Amarsanaa, J & Young, Kim. (2017). Viral Hepatitis and Liver Diseases in Mongolia. Euroasian Journal of Hepato-Gastroenterology. 7. 68-72. 10.5005/jp-journals-10018-1215.

6. Davaalkham, Dambadarjaa & Ojima, Toshiyuki & Uehara, Ritei & Watanabe, Makoto & Oki, Izumi & Wiersma, Steven & Nymadawa, Pagbajab & Nakamura, Yosikazu. (2007). Impact of the Universal Hepatitis B Immunization Program in Mongolia: Achievements and Challenges. Journal of epidemiology / Japan Epidemiological Association. 17. 69-75. 10.2188/jea.17.69.

7. Alcorn, Ted. (2011). Mongolia’s struggle with liver cancer. Lancet. 377. 1139-40. 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60448-0.

8. “Country Programme on Viral Hepatitis Prevention and Control.” World Health Organization, Western Pacific Region, 2015, www.wpro.who.int/mongolia/mediacentre/releases/20160318_viral_hep_prevention_control/en/.

9. Jazag, A., Puntsagdulam, N., & Chinburen, J. (2012). Status quo of chronic liver diseases, including hepatocellular carcinoma, in Mongolia. The Korean journal of internal medicine, 27(2), 121–127. 10. “Poverty in Mongolia.” Asian Development Bank, 2019, www.adb.org/countries/mongolia/poverty.

11. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on a National Strategy for the Elimination of Hepatitis B and C; Strom BL, Buckley GJ, editors. A National Strategy for the Elimination of Hepatitis B and C: Phase Two Report. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Mar 28. 1, Introduction. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK442230

 

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!

Developing a Strategic Plan to Cure Hepatitis B with the NIH

As you may know, two years ago the Hepatitis B Foundation started our Hepatitis B Cure Campaign, to promote increased public-sector investment in hepatitis B and liver cancer research. We have made great progress and wanted to provide an update. Earlier this year, the HBF submitted House Labor-HHS report language, and HBF President Dr. Timothy Block met with the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Deputy Director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, to urge the NIH to establish an inter-institute working group to coordinate NIH research focused on finding a cure for hepatitis B and liver cancer. 

We are pleased to let you know that due to this outreach, the NIH is establishing a Trans-Institute Hepatitis B Working Group. This Working Group has been tasked with developing a Strategic Plan to Cure Hepatitis B, which Dr. Tabak stated should be a “huge boost” to the shared goal of finding a cure for hepatitis B. The formation of the group follows the NIH’s release in February 2019 of a Request for Information (RFI) that asked members of the research community to provide input on a strategic framework for the Working Group. The RFI suggested the Strategic Plan focus on three areas of research that are essential to developing a cure for hepatitis B:

  • Understanding Hepatitis B Biology
  • Developing Tools and Resources
  • Developing Strategies to Cure Hepatitis B

NIH has reported that there was a very enthusiastic response to the RFI, and they are currently working to finalize an RFI Analysis Report and will include all the responses as an appendix. The report will help to guide the Working Group as they create their strategic elimination plan. Both the Trans-Institute Hepatitis B Cure Strategic Plan and the RFI Analysis Report will be made available to you in the coming months.

The Trans-Institute Hepatitis B Working Group is comprised of representatives from various Institutes within the NIH: the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). NIAID has been asked to lead and coordinate the Working Group.

This is good news as we work towards finding a cure for hepatitis B. All increased investments help support and implement the goal to eliminate hepatitis B globally. Having new treatments, and especially a cure, will be critical to reach this goal. Seeing the increased interest among the NIH, as well as the nation’s hepatitis B experts and researchers, is an exciting step in the journey to find a cure. 

We’re Here to Help: New Resource to Improve Medication Access in the U.S.

Are you a hepatitis B patient living in the United States? Are you taking entecavir or tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) to help manage your hepatitis B infection? Thanks to the Hepatitis B Foundation’s new strategic partnership with Rx Outreach – America’s largest fully licensed, non-profit, mail order pharmacy and Patient Assistance Program – you may be able to receive your medication for less than 5% of the average retail price!

Each year, we answer thousands of national and international phone calls, emails, and social media messages from people who have been impacted by hepatitis B. Over the past year, we have seen a significant increase in calls regarding access to medication. The majority of those calls have been from people living in the United States. The ability to access medications is more than just having them available at a local pharmacy – it is about the price as well.

In the United States, life-saving generic treatments can cost more than $830 a month on average. As treatments are typically taken for several years after a person begins, paying such high monthly out-of-pocket costs simply isn’t an option for most people. That’s why we partnered with Rx Outreach to increase patient accessibility to life-saving hepatitis B medications.

We believe that affordable treatments should be low-cost and widely available to everyone who needs them. Hepatitis B antiviral treatments need to be taken daily in order to be effective, and a lack of affordable options force some individuals who are living with chronic hepatitis B to avoid diagnosis and treatment, to stop taking medication or to only take it sporadically, which increases their risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer. Our new partnership can help eliminate the need for such potentially harmful actions by providing the same medication at a much lower cost than retail pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance plans can offer.

Rx Outreach provides a 30-day supply of entecavir and TDF – two of the most effective, common, and preferred treatments – through the mail. Interested individuals can enroll in the program with 3 simple steps. If you need to transfer your prescription from another pharmacy, you can do that too!

Eligibility Requirements:

Eligibility is based upon household income, not on insurance status or prescription drug coverage. To be eligible for Rx Outreach’s pricing, please review the chart below or you can check your eligibility here. If it appears that you do not qualify but you believe that you should, you can also call Rx Outreach and a representative will assist you.

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. It offers more than 1,000 medication strengths at affordable prices. Since 2010, Rx Outreach has saved people in need more than $662 million on their prescription medication.

New Report: Increasing Hepatitis B Awareness and Prevention in the Nail Salon Workforce

North American Occupational Health and Safety Week (May 5-11) is a time to raise awareness about the importance of injury and illness prevention in the workplace! This week, we’re focusing on health and safety within the nail salon industry, specifically the risk for hepatitis B transmission and opportunities to increase awareness and education about hepatitis B among nail salon workers.

In the U.S., the nail salon workforce is comprised mostly of Vietnamese Americans, with many being immigrants. Refugee and immigrant communities are often susceptible to worker exploitation (including labor trafficking) and encounter cultural and linguistic barriers that may leave them vulnerable to occupational health and safety risks, including hepatitis B transmission.

During routine work, nail technicians may be exposed to a client’s blood or other bodily fluids. It is important for nail salon workers to take precautionary measures to protect themselves and their clients to prevent the potential spread of the hepatitis B virus. More importantly, the nail salon industry (including salon owners and state health departments or boards that regulate nail salons) should implement policies that support greater education, awareness, and prevention of hepatitis B transmission among its workforce.

In October of 2011, the American College of Gastroenterology urged the need for increased surveillance and information on disinfection and infectious disease prevention, particularly for hepatitis B and C in nail salons. Since then, no major research or analysis has been conducted to better understand hepatitis B transmission or the policies that protect nail salon workers. In a new report released by the Hepatitis B Foundation, “The Impact of Nail Salon Industry Policies and Regulations on Hepatitis B Awareness and Prevention,” we seek to further understand the nail salon industry landscape through analyzing state policies that govern nail salons and identify strategies to support increased hepatitis B education, awareness, and prevention.

The nail salon industry is regulated at the state level by a regulatory Board of Cosmetology that oversees and ensures nail technicians and nail salons comply with all rules and regulations. In this report, we analyze the nail salon workforce and industry regulations and provide recommendations that can address specific concerns. We conducted phone interviews with health clinics, public health workers, and other relevant stakeholders to better understand the challenges this population encounters when accessing hepatitis B education and care. In addition, we conducted a policy analysis of each state’s Board of Cosmetology to assess their effectiveness in protecting workers from exposure to bloodborne pathogens, specifically hepatitis B. In our analysis, we found that several states may not adequately protect workers from workplace hazards that may increase their risk of hepatitis B exposure. With sanitation and disinfection requirements that greatly vary between states, low compliance can leave workers susceptible to the transmission of bloodborne pathogens, including the hepatitis B virus.

We offered the following recommendations to provide industry changes and community initiatives that can help protect workers or link them to care:

  • Build partnerships between community organizations and nail salons to increase hepatitis B education, testing, and vaccination among nail salon workers
  • Integrate hepatitis B education into the nail technician licensing curriculum
  • Implement continuing education (CE) requirements around hepatitis B prevention and uphold sanitation requirements
  • Provide multilingual course training materials and written licensing exams
  • Adopt a sanitation rating system

Additionally, through our analysis, we found that four states have policies that discriminate against nail salon workers affected by hepatitis B by barring them from working in nail salons. Even with federal legal protections from the Americans with Disabilities Act, the continued discrimination in this industry presents a clear need to increase hepatitis B knowledge and awareness. Further state-level advocacy will be needed to address discriminatory policies. We must hold states accountable and advocate for policies and regulations that protect individuals affected by hepatitis B and prevent transmission of hepatitis B in the nail salon workplace.


Be sure to check out our full report for a detailed analysis of current state regulations and policies to assess their impact on educating and protecting nail salon workers and preventing hepatitis B transmission in the workplace.

Whether you work in a nail salon or visit one for a manicure or pedicure, be knowledgeable about the steps you can take to protect yourself. For further information about nail salon hazards and a complete guide to protecting your health and preventing injury in the workplace, check out OSHA’s guide here.

Phase 3 Clinical Trials Opening for Hepatitis Delta Patients

Phase 3 clinical trials have been announced for two drugs, Lonafarnib and Myrcludex (Bulevirtide) for the treatment of hepatitis B and delta coinfection.

Phase 3 studies compare new possible treatments to the current standard treatment, to see if it is more effective and/or safer than the current standard of care. Phase 3 studies are randomized control trials, which means that patients will be assigned to one of several different treatment groups. These studies usually evaluate the new treatment over a long period of time but special designations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), such as Fast Track, Orphan Drug, Breakthrough Therapy Designations and PRIME eligibility status will speed up this process and bring these drugs to approval more quickly. Because the only currently approved treatment for hepatitis delta is pegylated interferon, which is often less than 30% effective, there is an unmet need for faster development of more treatment options.

Phase 3 clinical trials for Lonafarnib are currently recruiting hepatitis B and delta coinfected patients in the United States. Ninety-two international trial site locations have also been announced and will take place in Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Republic of Moldova, New Zealand, Pakistan, Romania, Span, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom and Vietnam. This clinical trial, run by Eiger Biopharmaceuticals, will test the new drug Lonafarnib in combination with other treatments. For more information about the study, visit www.D-LIVRstudy.com or clinicaltrials.gov.

Bulevirtide, made by MYR-GmbH Pharmaceuticals, has also announced that its phase 3 clinical trials will be opening in 2019. Trial site locations have not been announced yet. For more information about this study, visit clinicaltrials.gov.Click here for more information on locating additional clinical trials. If you are considering joining a clinical trial, discussing it with your liver specialist can be helpful in determining if joining a trial may be right for you.

It is very important for hepatitis B and delta patients to be managed by a doctor, preferably a liver specialist, who is familiar with managing hepatitis B and delta coinfection. For assistance in locating a specialist near you, please visit our Physician Directory page. For additional questions, please visit www.hepdconnect.org or email connect@hepdconnect.org.

Talk with Dr. Block: An Expert’s Insight to A Hepatitis B Cure – Part 2

In the last Talk with Dr. Block blog post, hepatitis B expert Timothy Block, Ph.D., co-founder, and President of the Hepatitis B Foundation, sat down to discuss the status of a hepatitis B cure and how the foundation is contributing to the cure efforts. In this second installment, he provides an inside look into what a cure could possibly look like and a potential cure timeline!

This is the final post in a two-part series.

 We keep hearing that a combination of drugs will be necessary to cure HBV. What will these therapies look like?

 

A combination of drugs is likely not necessary for everyone. We already know that a small number of people who are treated with one drug can do fairly well.  However, most people will likely need a combination of drugs only because of precision medicine. Precision medicine allows a healthcare specialist or provider to develop treatments on an individual scale based upon an understanding of that person’s response to the disease. Some patients might respond better to specific drugs and specific doses due to differences such as age or underlying health conditions. We should take advantage of precision medicine and match specific drugs with the specific clinical state that someone is in. I do not believe that an immunomodulator, or medications that help to regulate the immune system, will be necessary for most people. It may, however, accelerate a cure and help us create a cure cocktail that will be effective in a large number of patients.

A functional cure for hepatitis B will likely be defined as the absence of the hepatitis B virus in the cells. This means that the person will have a sustained loss of surface antigen (HBsAg negative) and undetectable viral load (HBV DNA).  I look forward to a time where we have drugs that are both functionally and clinically curative. It is difficult to say if the cure will be in pill form, an injection, or an infusion. The hope is to eventually have a cure that will be taken orally for a short amount of time like the hepatitis C cure. More research needs to be done in order to truly determine what form the cure might take.

   How long do you anticipate someone will need to be treated?

A person would likely need to be treated for a few years. I base this time frame on the lifespan of an infected cell and how long I think it would take to safely replace the infected cells with healthy, uninfected cells. However, it is important to remember that people with chronic hepatitis B differ by the number of infected cells they have in their liver; some people may have most of their liver infected while others might have a smaller portion of their liver infected. The replication of the virus in the body and immune response also differ from person to person. Due to these factors, treatment will likely be administered by some form of response-guided therapy (RGT). This type of treatment means that a doctor will monitor the patient as they take the medication and adjust it as needed. Some patients will respond rapidly to the drugs and will be able to end treatment sooner than others.

 

When can we anticipate a combination of therapies resulting in a cure?

 

I’m very optimistic. At the moment, it looks like we might see the approval of one to two new drugs for hepatitis B or hepatitis Delta between the next 18 months and 2 years. The approval of these potential drugs is dependent upon the research conducted in clinical trials, but there are several drugs set to enter Phase 3 of their trials, which is promising! I expect that entry inhibitors – antiretroviral drugs that block a virus from infecting a healthy cell – will be among the first round of new drugs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is difficult to say if they will be a cure, but they will likely be a big step in the right direction!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is based upon recent research and updates in the field. Please note that timelines and specific information regarding hepatitis B drugs are estimations and are subject to change as new research emerges.

The Link Between Hepatitis B and Liver Cancer

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month!  Despite the aggressive nature of this cancer – only one out of every five diagnosed patients survive beyond five years – liver cancer receives little attention from those outside of the health field. To help raise awareness and support those who have been affected, we are using our #justB campaign to share the stories of individuals who have been directly impacted by liver cancer throughout the month of October. The stories are featured throughout the month on the Hepatitis B Foundation, Liver Cancer Connect and Hep B United social media outlets. Check out Alice, Bunmi, Dai, and Kim’s stories.

What is Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer occurs when normal liver cells begin to grow uncontrollably and form a mass called a tumor. Cancerous tumors are dangerous because they begin to damage healthy cells that make up the organ and impair the liver’s functionality. Of the nine different types of liver cancer, Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common and often results from chronic hepatitis B. In the United States, new cases of liver cancer and liver cancer deaths are steadily rising. In fact, a recent study has shown that there has been a 53% increase in liver cancer deaths since 2000.

 

 

Hepatitis B and Liver Cancer

Although liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, it is the second most common cause of cancer deaths. Many people do not realize that chronic hepatitis B is the primary global risk factor for developing liver cancer. Certain viruses, including hepatitis B, can cause hepatitis, which translates to “inflammation of liver.” The virus attacks the liver and weakens its ability to perform important tasks like filtering toxins from your blood and maintaining the level of sugar in your blood. Chronic (long-term) infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses can lead to liver cancer. Worldwide, hepatitis B is much more widespread than hepatitis C, making it a priority when it comes to the prevention of liver cancer. Approximately 292 million people around the world are living with hepatitis B.

Liver Cancer by the Numbers:

  • 10% of the world’s liver transplants are due to hepatitis B
  • 60% of liver cancer diagnoses are due to cases of chronic hepatitis B
  • 43% of liver cancer deaths are due to chronic hepatitis B
  • 788,000 people die from liver cancer annually
  • 15% – 25% of people who were infected with hepatitis B at birth will die prematurely from cirrhosis, liver failure, or hepatocellular carcinoma, if their hepatitis B is not diagnosed and appropriately managed
  • 80% of liver cancer patients are in sub-Saharan Africa & in Eastern Asia

Preventing Liver Cancer

Educating oneself is the first step in preventing liver cancer! 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. Groups such as the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, the American Cancer Foundation, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, and the Cancer Support Community 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.

Did you know that the hepatitis B vaccine is the first anti-cancer vaccine ever created? That’s because it helps to prevent liver cancer! 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: with the first dose you 50% protected, with the second dose you are 80% protected, and with the third dose, you are 100% immune to hepatitis B. 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 screened 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 treatment, if needed, 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!

Interested in learning more about the connection between hepatitis B and liver cancer? Join us on Tuesday, October 23rd from 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm ET for Hepatitis B is the Major Etiology of Liver Cancer: Is a Cure Possible? Is it Necessary? – a webinar by HBF’s co-founder Dr. Tim Block on hepatitis B, liver cancer, and where to go from the current research standpoint. Register for the webinar here.

Where is Hepatitis D? High Prevalence of Hepatitis B/D Coinfection in Central Africa

By Sierra Pellechio, Hepatitis Delta Connect Coordinator

While hepatitis B is known to be highly endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and is estimated to affect 5-20% of the general population, the burden of hepatitis D, a dangerous coinfection of hepatitis B, has largely been left undescribed. Since the virus’s discovery 40 years ago, Africa has faced structural barriers that have contributed to the ongoing prevalence of the virus in this region. Widespread instability, under-resourced health systems, and poor surveillance have contributed to inadequate research and a lack of understanding about the health burden of hepatitis D on hepatitis B patients, particularly in Central Africa.

New data, however, reveals pockets of hepatitis B/D coinfection in this region, particularly in countries such as Cameroon, Central African Republic and Gabon. In a recently published study of nearly 2,000 hepatitis B infected blood samples from 2010-2016 in Cameroon, 46.7% tested positive for hepatitis D antibodies, a marker of past or current hepatitis D coinfection. Another study of 233 chronic hepatitis B carriers from 2008-2009 found a 17.6% positivity for hepatitis D antibodies. Other small studies from the Central African Republic have revealed 68.2% prevalence in hepatitis B patients, 50% coinfection in liver cancer patients and an 18.8% coinfection in hepatitis B infected pregnant women. Not only are new studies revealing evidence that there are groups at higher risk for hepatitis D, but a 2008 study on 124 community members in Gabon found 66% of them had markers for hepatitis D, proving this virus can also be circulating in the general population. Globally, hepatitis D is thought to affect about 5-10% of hepatitis B patients, making Central Africa an area of extremely high prevalence.

A diagnosis with hepatitis B and D can increase the risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer by nearly three times, and with only one available treatment, the future for coinfected patients if often uncertain. Although hepatitis B and D can be safely prevented by completing the hepatitis B vaccine series, which is available in many countries throughout Africa, the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is often not given within the recommended 24 hours of birth. Lack of awareness, availability, and high cost mean many infants will not begin the vaccine series until 6 weeks of age, creating a window for exposure to hepatitis B. Greater than 95% of babies infected with hepatitis B will go on to develop chronic hepatitis B infections, leaving them susceptible to a future hepatitis D infection. Spread the same way as hepatitis B, through direct contact with infected blood and sexual fluids, hepatitis D can be contracted through unsterile medical and dental equipment and procedures, blood transfusions, shared razors and unprotected sex. Although the severity of disease varies greatly by hepatitis D genotype, coinfection always requires expert management by a knowledgeable liver specialist, which are often difficult to find.

As an increasing number of studies continue to describe the widespread endemicity of hepatitis B/D coinfection and its public health burden, researchers and the Hepatitis Delta International Network are calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare hepatitis D a “threat” in this region in order to promote increased priority and awareness. Addressing hepatitis B/D coinfection prevention and management will be complex and require a multi-pronged approach through methods such as government prioritization, increased funding for health systems, hepatitis B vaccination awareness programs, birth dose prioritization, better sterilization techniques in hospitals, clinics, and barbers, and public awareness of the disease.

For more information about hepatitis B/D coinfection and the Hepatitis Delta Connect program, please visit www.hepdconnect.org or email us at connect@hepdconnect.org. Hepatitis Delta Connect seeks to provide information, resources and support for hepatitis B/D patients and their families through its website, social media, fact sheets, webinars and hepatitis D liver specialist directory.