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What’s the Difference?: Herbal Remedies and Supplements vs. Western Medicine

What’s the Difference?: Herbal Remedies and Supplements vs. Western Medicine

Around the world, people consider the use of herbal remedies or supplements as a natural treatment for hepatitis B and/or D infection. These natural remedies have historically been advertised to boost the immune system and improve liver health. Herbal remedies or supplements are described as products made from botanicals or plants used to treat diseases and maintain health. They can be produced in a variety of forms including liquid extracts, teas, tablets/capsules, bath salts, oils, and ointments4.

Why do people choose to use herbal remedies?

The use of these products over time has social-cultural influences related to the distrust of and unfamiliarity with western medicine for management of hepatitis B or D infection. While herbal remedies have been used widely across cultures and contexts, patterns of racism, medical mistreatment, and inadequate delivery of care in western medicine have influenced the present state of treatment practices. In response to these barriers to sensitive and effective health care delivery, many groups such as Hmong and African communities often rely on herbal remedies and supplements to treat medical conditions and ease suffering.

Silymarin, milk thistle, and Kampo medicine

The distrust of western medicine has contributed to more widespread use of supplements such as silymarin (milk thistle) and Kampo medicine, as alternatives to manage hepatitis B or D infection. Many people believe that Silymarin can improve liver health through its antioxidant and free radical-fighting properties. Traditional Kampo medicine has been used for over 2,000 years to treat a variety of diseases including hepatitis B. One herbal treatment that is frequently used is bupleurum which many people believe can protect the liver or heal liver damage. Despite possible liver health benefits, neither supplement is a treatment for hepatitis B or D and may sometimes cause further harm to the liver4. It is important to note that there is presently no cure for hepatitis B.

False claims and bad interactions

Additionally, several alternative medicine companies often make false claims and testimonials to convince people to purchase expensive alternative treatments with false promises that are not based on scientific evidence. Herbal remedies and supplements may also interact with certain medications prescribed for those with hepatitis B and D, so it is important to seek the advice of a health care professional before use of any of these products3,4.

Strides in western health care

The long-standing hesitancy to participate in western health care is well-reasoned and firmly rooted in past wrongdoing on the part of often fundamentally racist institutions. While the western health care system remains far from perfect, it is important to remember that many strides continue to be made to correct the misdeeds of the past, and conversations around health equity and the social determinants of health (including racism) are becoming more and more common. Meanwhile, research has found that beliefs and misconceptions around western medicine can delay care and increase morbidity rates of hepatitis B in high-risk communities2.

It is vital for those living with hepatitis B or D to stay informed with scientific knowledge about supplements and herbal treatments to ensure these products are effective and safe in their daily life. The coordination of hepatitis B and D care by providers must do better to support those impacted by the viruses, in a way that is culturally sensitive and not dismissive of the harm that has been inflicted on communities of color and immigrant communities, who are more likely to be affected by hepatitis B and D1.  Health care professionals and other service providers must continually work to improve their cultural humility. In addition, health care institutions practicing western medicine must work harder to ensure care is equitable and safe, and to center the voices, stories, and insights of community members in their work to repair the impacts of structural racism and medical mistreatment that have caused such deep distrust in western medical treatments.

To learn more about effective hepatitis B and D medications, check out our Drug Watch page!

Disclaimer: Herbal products are not U.S. FDA-approved, and the Hepatitis B Foundation cannot endorse the usage of such products that lack regulation and scientific evidence to deem them both effective and safe.

References

  1. El-Serag, H., McGlynn, K. A., Graham, G. N., So, S., Howell, C. D., Fang, T., … & Thiel, T. K. (2010). Achieving health equity to eliminate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in HBV-and HCV-associated liver disease. The Journal of Family Practice, 59(4 Suppl), S37.
  2. Mukhtar, N. A., Evon, D. M., Yim, C., Lok, A. S., Lisha, N., Lisker-Melman, M., … & Khalili, M. (2021). Patient knowledge, beliefs and barriers to hepatitis B Care: results of a multicenter, multiethnic patient survey. Digestive diseases and sciences, 66(2), 434-441.
  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Using dietary supplements wisely. (2019). Using dietary supplements wisely. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/using-dietary-supplements-wisely.
  4. US Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Information for consumers on using dietary supplements. https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements/information-consumers-using-dietary-supplements.

Reactivation with Hepatitis B: Understanding Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies

Understanding the hepatitis B virus and the panel of blood tests needed to determine infection or immunity can be a stressful and challenging task. In simplest terms, “hepatitis” means liver inflammation and the hepatitis B virus can ultimately cause liver inflammation. The liver is an important organ in the human body and responsible for the removal of toxins and regulation of digestion (learn more about the function of the liver here). The hepatitis B virus can infect and disrupt critical functions of the liver in supporting your overall health. 

How the hepatitis B virus works 

In the case of the hepatitis B virus, the host is the liver cell. As the virus makes more copies of itself, the liver may become damaged, and sometimes it is unable to carry out its essential tasks to regulate metabolism, nutrients, and digestion. It is best to prevent hepatitis B infections when we can – and since antibodies are the best defense against the virus, the hepatitis B vaccine can be used to signals the body to make antibodies to fight the virus. The hepatitis B vaccine provides lifelong protection from the virus. However, this is only possible before infection with the virus. If somebody is already infected with the virus, antiviral therapy is used to control the virus and prevent liver damage – antiviral medications disrupt the life cycle of the virus by disabling viral receptors from binding to liver cells. 

Blood test panel to diagnose hepatitis B: 

The only way to tell someone’s hepatitis B status is through a panel of blood tests – the tests are all done at one time, and only one small tube of blood is needed. These tests are not included in routine testing, so it is important to ask your doctor to test you for hepatitis B or try to find a free screening event near you (http://www.hepbunited.org/). The panel consists of the following tests to determine your hepatitis B status: 

  1. HBsAg: 
    • This tests for the hepatitis B surface antigen in someone’s blood. The surface antigen is the protein that surrounds the virus and protects it from attack by the host. A positive surface antigen test indicates that the virus is present in the body. A “positive” or “reactive” result for HBsAg indicates that someone is infected with hepatitis B and can transmit the virus to others.  
  1. HBsAb 
    • This tests for the hepatitis B surface antibody in someone’s blood. The surface antibodies are produced by the immune system and can fight off the virus by attaching to the surface antigen protein. This test can detect the presence of these antibodies. Ideally this test will be ordered quantitatively (numerically). A “positive” surface antibody test (meaning numbers reading >10 IU/mL) means that a person has protection against the hepatitis B virus (either by vaccine or from a past exposure).  
  1. HBcAb (total) 
    • This is known as the hepatitis B core antibody test. The core antibody is produced by the immune system after infection with the virus. This test indicates an existing or past infection of the hepatitis B virus.  

 

To learn more about interpreting your test results, click here. 

Important things to know about Hepatitis B Core Antibody (HBcAb) 

Someone who has markers of past infection, particularly hepatitis B core antibody, can be at risk for hepatitis B reactivation. Reactivation can be triggered by immunosuppressive therapies and cause significant life-threatening challenges. If you test HBcAb+, please talk to your doctor about what that means, and make sure you notify all future health care providers. 

How is reactivation with HBV defined? 

Reactivation is defined as the sudden increase or reappearance of HBV (hepatitis B virus) DNA. When the virus invades the cell, it forms a covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) in the nucleus of infected cells referred to as hepatocytes. Because cccDNA is resistant to antiviral treatments, it is never removed from the cells. Therefore, even after recovery from a past infection, the cccDNA is present and may reactivate. It is not clearly understood why this may happen, but certain factors may increase the risk for reactivation.  

To learn more about the core, click here. 

What puts one at risk for reactivation? 

  1. Virologic factors such as high baseline HBV DNA, hepatitis B envelope antigen positivity (HBeAg), and chronic hepatitis B infection that persists for more than 6 months.
    • Detectable HBV DNA levels and detectable levels of HBsAG can increase the risk for HBRr (reactivation) 
    • Testing positive for HBeAg also increases the risk for reactivation 
  2. Co-infection with other viruses such as hepatitis C or hepatitis Delta 
  3. Older age 
  4. Male sex 
  5. Cirrhosis 
  6. An underlying condition requiring immunosuppressive therapies (rheumatoid arthritis, lymphoma, or solid tumors) 
    • Certain medications can increase the likelihood of reactivation by more than 10%.  
    • B-cell depleting agents such as rituximab, ofatumumab, doxorubicin, epirubicin, moderate or high-dose corticosteroid therapy lasting more than 4 weeks. 

How to prevent reactivation of hepatitis B 

Hepatitis B reactivation is a serious condition that can lead to health complications, Reactivation is avoidable if at-risk individuals are identified through screening. Current guidelines recommend that individuals at the highest risk (those receiving B-cell depleting therapies and cytotoxic regimens) should receive antiviral therapies as prophylaxis before beginning immunosuppressive therapy. These antiviral therapies should also be continued well beyond stopping the immunosuppressive therapies. Be sure to talk to your doctor to be sure you are not at risk for reactivation.  

References 

Hepatitis b virus reactivation: Risk factors and current management strategies.

Reactivation of hepatitis B virus: A review of Clinical Guidelines.

https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cld.883

https://www.hepb.org/prevention-and-diagnosis/diagnosis/understanding-your-test-results/

CHIPO Partner Highlight: United States Coalition for African Immigrant Health

The Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO) is a national community coalition that is co-founded and led by the Hepatitis B Foundation and is comprised of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the U.S. Over the past year, CHIPO has grown its membership to include over 50 community-based organizations and federal agencies, all of which are working to meet the common goals of raising awareness about hepatitis B among African immigrant communities, and increasing rates of screening, vaccination, and linkage to care. This month, we are excited to highlight the work of one of our newer national partners, the United States Coalition for African Immigrant Health, Inc., (USCAIH) and their Executive Director, Janet Afoakwah. Please enjoy a recent interview with Janet, as she describes her work, including successes and challenges, and the positive impacts she and USCAIH have had through their annual conferences and upcoming plans for expanding their portfolio and mission.

Could you please introduce yourself and your organization?

My name is Janet Afoakwah, and I am now the Executive Director of the United States Coalition for African Immigrant Health (USCAIH), previously known as the United States Conference on African Immigrant Health. USCAIH began as the National African Immigrant Project in 2005, supported by the U.S. Office of Minority Health, which provided a platform for national and regional conferences focused on African immigrant (AI) health. These conferences continue to be held on a yearly basis and attract a broad range of attendees, including federal agencies, academicians, researchers, policy makers, public health officials, students, community organizations, and a variety of other stakeholders. We are very excited because this year, in addition to hosting our annual conferences, we are going to be broadening the scope and focus of our work to include other services.

Could you tell me a little bit about what some of USCAIH’s programs are that specifically address hepatitis and other health concerns in African communities?

As we move forward into 2023 and beyond, USCAIH is going to be working toward achievement of some broader goals, including coalition-building; providing technical support to organizations working with AI communities; offering trainings and support in cultural sensitivity for direct-service organizations, especially those working in the areas of HIV and hepatitis, since this is such a crucial component of engaging with AI communities; organizing and expanding our website with important and relevant resources; collaborating and forming partnerships with like-minded organizations; inviting researchers to share their work with the community via a new podcast format; and providing a database where researchers working on AI health can consolidate their findings for direct use and application within communities. Data and research about African immigrants often are not disaggregated from that about African American and Black populations, so getting a clear picture of the health and health disparities impacting AI communities can often be difficult.

Is USCAIH focused in a specific geographic area or does it have more of a national reach?

Our conferences are both regional and national, and we also try to include researchers and organizations from many countries within Africa itself. The other services that we are hoping to expand will be focused on AI communities within the U.S., but all around the country.

Which countries are primarily represented in the African diaspora that USCAIH serves?

We work with folks from all countries and communities. We have been able to reach some communities a bit more effectively, due to existing relationships that our staff has with community members, but our hope is to eventually reach all AI communities within the U.S.

What are some of the biggest challenges in addressing hepatitis and other health concerns at the community level? How have you worked to overcome these? Are there any additional resources that would be helpful to have?

The biggest missed opportunities are in vaccination and screening for both hepatitis B and liver cancer. This gap is due to a variety of reasons, including general lack of health insurance and lack of funding for supportive programs, as well as inequities in healthcare access in general for many immigrant communities, which contribute to greater health disparities. Another large barrier is the lack of provider knowledge about the high risk of hepatitis B in AI communities.

The best ways to overcome some of these challenges are in the creation and sustainability of programs that are centered on AI communities and are culturally and linguistically competent – this is SO important. Another key element in breaking some of the barriers around cultural humility and especially provider awareness is in establishing partnerships and effective collaborations. Building awareness among trusted community and faith leaders, who in turn can pass this on to community members, is also critical. We have been able to launch and disseminate a podcast that covers health issues affecting AI communities, and we try to feature researchers and guests with lived experience of different health challenges, including hepatitis B, in order to raise awareness, dispel myths and misperceptions, and bring the severity of different health concerns into perspective. We are also working to consolidate resources on our website and to have all partners providing direct services around the country listed on there for easy navigation and connection.

Other more broad-sweeping, policy-level changes that need to happen include making hep B screening recommendations universal for all adults; and improving and centralizing linkage to care systems.

What do you think are some of the biggest barriers in raising awareness and addressing rates of hepatitis screening and linkage to care at the local, state, and federal levels? Do you think more could be done in these spheres to address this problem?

This is a big concern and one of the steps we have recently taken to address this is hosting a roundtable discussion intended to educate healthcare providers and professionals about hepatitis B and how to care for community members who might be living with HBV. Better provider education and linkage to care needs to be the order of the day. Community-based organizations should be supplementing the services that providers are offering. One big important change that can occur is for electronic medical records to include an automatic question about hepatitis B screening for all patients. All of this can be done with additional funding and support from the federal and state levels.

Do you see this issue as being connected to other concerns facing African immigrant communities?

Yes, there are a variety of health concerns that face AI communities in the U.S, many of which require similar approaches of cultural sensitivity and community and provider awareness to address. These include diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and various forms of cancer.

What are your favorite parts about your job? What got you interested in this work?

I am passionate about hepatitis B and that is what actually got me into public health. I came into this work having previously led an HIV project at another organization. I love every aspect of my work! My favorite moments are in organizing conferences because they move so fast, have many moving parts, and are SO rewarding! These conferences are widely recognized as the premier gathering for discussing AI health – many organizations of all types are interested in presenting and sharing their work. The conference planning is tremendously collaborative and is an all-volunteer effort. Now, as Executive Director, I can see the whole picture of the conferences and the organization as a whole and am so excited to continue to be working on our old and new endeavors. Hosting the podcast has been a great experience as well, and a wonderful tool to interview a variety of people working in AI health, to raise awareness about important health topics like hepatitis B and to amplify the mission of USCAIH.

Any other thoughts or ideas you’d like to share for improving health and closing health disparities among African immigrant communities in the U.S.?

I just want to emphasize the importance of practicing cultural and linguistic competency, and of working in collaboration and establishing relationships with a variety of partners (including community- and faith-based organizations, health centers, and providers) and how important this is for community work. Establishing trust (which requires time and patience) and providing appropriate resources also cannot be overstated. Continuing to host conferences in order to have a space where ideas can be shared and collaborations can happen is key, and hopefully we can all work together to develop and execute a strategic plan of sorts for improving health and eliminating disparities in African immigrant communities in the U.S.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today and for sharing more about the great work USCAIH has done and will continue into the future!

 Thank you!

CHIPO Partner Highlight: Illinois Public Health Association

The Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO) is a national community coalition that is co-founded and led by the Hepatitis B Foundation and is composed of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the US. Over the past year, CHIPO has grown its membership to include nearly 50 community-based organizations and federal agencies, all of which are working to meet the common goal of raising awareness about hepatitis B among African immigrant communities, and increasing rates of screening, vaccination, and linkage to care. This month, we are excited to highlight the work of one of our newer partners, the Illinois Public Health Association, and their Outreach Coordinator, Monde Nyambe. Please enjoy a recent interview with Monde, as she describes her work, including successes and challenges, and the positive impacts she and IPHA have had throughout the state of Illinois.

 Could you please introduce yourself and your organization?

Monde: My name is Monde Nyambe, and I am the Outreach Coordinator for the Illinois Public Health Association, which is the oldest and largest public health association in the state of Illinois. I work specifically in the area of addressing hepatitis B among African communities around the state. IPHA has had a hep B grant for some time and the focus has actually primarily been on African communities – it was only in the past fiscal year that AAPI communities have been included in this grant as well. All of IPHA’s hepatitis B efforts do fall under the umbrella of the HIV/STI/viral hepatitis section. I started at the organization as an AmeriCorps member in November of 2020, and then was hired on to connect with African communities in the area, around the topic of hepatitis B. I am very glad to have had a role in really growing IPHA’s initiative and moving the outreach project along from the beginning – during my time here, I have built connections and made contacts with grassroots organizations and individuals, including a large and engaged group of African pastors in the area, who are vital to sharing important and valuable health information.

Could you tell me a little bit about what some of IPHA’s programs are that specifically address hepatitis?

Monde: A lot of the organization’s focus has been on educating institutions and utilizing African community members who are influential in their spheres to help raise awareness and educate community members about hepatitis B. One important undertaking has been to recruit MPH students of African descent to distribute materials and make connections, and to offer assistance with services – this has been quite effective. We have been able to utilize a partnership between a local Planned Parenthood and Merck Pharmaceuticals to meet community members where they are and to offer a sliding scale for hepatitis B vaccines. We have also been able to conduct outreach to ESL students at community colleges in the area and have been able to reach about 100 students in this way. This has been overall very successful and many of the students were quite engaged and had a lot of questions. One occasional barrier is that strict religious beliefs can sometimes impede open discussion of health issues like hepatitis B.

Which countries are primarily represented in your area’s African diaspora?

Monde: We have a huge Congolese community around Champaign and in Central Illinois, and there are many West African immigrants in the Rock Island area as well.

What are some of the biggest challenges in addressing hepatitis at the community level? How have you worked to overcome these? Are there any additional resources that would be helpful to have?

Monde: The biggest challenge is definitely awareness – people often do not realize that hepatitis B is a problem in their communities. Another challenge is finding individuals who are willing and able to do targeted health communication outreach (like the group of pastors mentioned previously). We have been able to do brief interviews with Facebook influencers, which have been helpful, and to build connections with passionate community members. One big lesson I have learned is to not be afraid to reach out to people that you may know personally and they in turn can reach out to their networks – personal relationships work well for this type of outreach!

Another big challenge in hepatitis B and health outreach to African communities is finding materials in the appropriate languages and dialects. Even after all my time in this country, I have not been able to find materials of any kind that are printed in my native language. Many times, materials are printed in standard languages like French, Swahili, and Amharic, but there are different versions of even those languages that many community members may not readily understand. Also, not everyone knows the official languages of different countries. If and when resources are created in a greater number of languages, it is important to pilot-test them in the communities to ensure that they are accurate and meaningful in the language as it is used in daily life.

Additionally, many people who are newly arrived to this country don’t know much about how to navigate the healthcare system here and don’t have health insurance. If they do have health insurance, they may not know that hepatitis B testing and vaccination are covered under their plan. One idea that might be helpful would be to have an easily accessible list of African healthcare providers or community health workers who are interested in serving their own communities. This might help people to feel more comfortable and that their healthcare provider relates to their personal experiences.

What do you think are some of the biggest barriers in raising awareness and addressing rates of hepatitis screening and linkage to care at the local, state, and federal levels? Do you think more could be done in these spheres to address this problem?

Monde: I think again that awareness continues to be the biggest issue here and that continued engagement with leaders in this area is important and crucial for advocacy. People need to recognize the consequences of not testing for, preventing, and treating hepatitis B. Leaders need to also continue to hear about disparities that exist in healthcare, such as the high rates of hepatitis B in African communities around the US. Encouraging more community members to be involved in grassroots advocacy can also go a long way toward policy formulation, increased awareness, and, importantly, more funding for efforts to combat hepatitis B. It would be great if some of the same energy and efforts that have been used in the HIV space over the past several decades could be used in the hep B space as well.

Do you see this issue as being connected to other concerns facing African immigrant communities?

Monde: Yes, definitely! High rates of hepatitis B are connected to economic status, English language proficiency, immigration status – even things like having knowledge of and access to public transportation to get to appointments on time is part of the issue as well. Understanding of cultural customs that may be confusing and pose challenges for those who are new to this country, like leaving a voicemail and navigating the phone systems of many doctor’s offices and clinics, should also be considered when ensuring that healthcare and health information are truly culturally and linguistically appropriate and actually accessible for all communities. The social determinants of health are important and must be considered in making decisions and designing everything from communications campaigns to policies.

What are your favorite parts about your job? What got you interested in this work?

Monde: I started out as a social worker and when I came to the US, became a nursing assistant. I worked in a nursing home, and, while in school, an advisor recommended a public health class to me and this changed everything! I started outreach work and really liked public health – I then became an AmeriCorps member and started my journey at IPHA! I have most enjoyed interacting with people from many different walks of life, answering questions, and offering guidance and clarity around hepatitis B. Seeing all different sides of the issue has been challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on your work and the role of IPHA in raising awareness and conducting outreach about hepatitis B to African communities across the state of Illinois. We appreciate all that you do!

Monde: Thank you!

CHIPO Partner Highlight: Great Lakes Peace Centre

 The Coalition Against Hepatitis for People of African Origin (CHIPO) is a national community coalition that is co-founded and led by the Hepatitis B Foundation, comprised of organizations and individuals who are interested in addressing the high rates of hepatitis B infection among African communities in the US. Recently, CHIPO has started to expand its reach to communities in Africa and has welcomed new partners from the Continent. This month, in honor of Minority Health Month, we highlight a partnership between CHIPO and Great Lakes Peace Centre (GLPC) in Kasese, Uganda. CHIPO has recently provided GLPC with educational resources that are tailored for African communities, which GLPC is translating into local dialects and will use in a strategy to raise awareness and provide education about hepatitis B, primarily to rural women and youth in Kasese District. A recent interview with Bwambale Arafat, Head of Health and Policy Officer at GLPC, sheds light on some of the significant barriers that impede hepatitis B screening, prevention, and care in Uganda (and much of the African continent) and showcases some of the extraordinary work of GLPC on a host of issues, of which viral hepatitis is just one.

 CHIPO: Can you share a little bit about yourself? What is your connection to hepatitis?

Arafat: I work with the Great Lakes Peace Centre, which is a grassroots, youth-led organization, here in Kasese District, a rural area in Rwenzori region, western Uganda (near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, about 400 kilometers from the capital city of Kampala). Most of our work with hepatitis B is focused on raising awareness and providing education about the virus to women and youth in the area, who are the most important people to reach. We also engage in a lot of advocacy initiatives, as well as efforts to lower stigma and discrimination.

My personal connection to hepatitis B is the diagnosis of my uncle with hepatitis B and liver cancer and his death shortly thereafter. There was widespread misconception that he had been bewitched and poisoned by relatives. I have been working to try to dispel some of these myths and provide accurate information ever since. In 2021, I was honored as a World Hepatitis Alliance champion for hepatitis outreach work during COVID-19. I and GLPC are deeply committed to the cause of hepatitis B elimination by the year 2030.

CHIPO: Congratulations on the well-deserved honor! Can you share a bit about the work and goals of your organization?

Arafat: Due to its proximity to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kasese feels the effects of war and conflict acutely, and the area is quite fragile. Peace and Conflict Resolution is the first of three priority areas for GLPC and is driven forward by the efforts and demographic dividends of young people. Health Promotion and Public Policy is the second priority area, which encompasses awareness and education about hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis prevention, screening, and treatment, as well as nutrition assessments, counseling, and support, especially for mothers of children under five years of age. Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene is another topic of top concern, and initiatives in this sector included a hand-washing campaign for COVID-19. The last focus area under the Health Promotion umbrella is adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and especially promotion of education equity for menstruating young women and ending of stigma and discrimination around this, thus keeping young women in school for longer. Social empowerment happens through education, and people can donate to keep girls in school with financial support. The third organizational priority is to focus on climate change – GLPC distributes solar panels through public and private partnerships, as a great step toward sustainability and protecting the planet we share.

 CHIPO: What are some of the biggest barriers to hepatitis screening, prevention, and care in your community?

Arafat: As I mentioned above, the widespread presence of myths and misconceptions about hepatitis B, especially about transmission, is one of the biggest culprits in perpetuating the stigma and discrimination that still dominate the hepatitis B conversation and presents one of the biggest challenges to increasing screening and vaccination. Some ways that we are working to dispel some of these misconceptions are through our social media platforms, which all have huge followings by younger people. However, attitudes are very slow to change, and this is why the involvement of religious and community leaders in spreading accurate information and shifting the narrative around viral hepatitis is so important, and why personal testimonials and connections with people who are living with hepatitis B hold such power.

Other challenges to screening, prevention, management, and treatment of hepatitis B in Kasese include the enormous out-of-pocket costs of diagnosis and testing; the persistent lack of awareness among the general population – primarily lack of information, education, and communication; the lack of logistics and supplies for things like test kits and cold chain storage for vaccines; and the long distances and mountainous topography that make access to health facilities in larger cities difficult. Additionally, funding and resources from the government and other stakeholders remain inadequate, making it difficult to ensure that services will be available when they are needed. The Minister of Health and government of Uganda have created infrastructure to help with vaccination (they have provided 1 million USD for this reason), have recommended universal adult vaccination, and have also waived fees for viral load investigation. However, things like ultrasound scans, complete blood count panels, and other tests to determine when someone would need treatment for hepatitis are not subsidized. The government could also do a great deal more in terms of increasing awareness, investing money into management and care, prioritizing the birth dose of the vaccine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B, and addressing the stigma and discrimination so many living with hepatitis B routinely face.

Many infants also continue to be delivered by traditional birth attendants, who are not trained in preventing mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B, and knowledge among community health workers in general is very low. There is also inadequate data and surveillance of the disease, and no records of screening, vaccination, or care are kept in the Health Management and Information System. There is a lack of clear guidelines around testing for the medical community and a lack of materials that can help to raise awareness and combat stigma.

We also really need to integrate hepatitis services into those that exist for HIV/AIDS. Machines that are used to test for HIV/AIDS can be recalibrated to also test for hepatitis. Electronic Health Records can be upgraded to include hepatitis B status. As awareness grows, patients can also hold health workers accountable for hepatitis testing, as they do now for HIV and syphilis. This conversation needs to start with the people themselves.

 CHIPO: How are you planning to use CHIPO’s materials and resources over the next year?

Arafat: We have a saying in Kasese: “When you talk in a foreign language, you talk to people’s heads. When you speak in their language, you speak to their hearts.” Our first priority is to translate CHIPO’s flip charts, takeaway cards, and guides for health educators into our local dialects of Lhukonzo and Runyakitara, in order to reach as many community members and stakeholders as possible. We will host four community educational events using the materials and in these events, will focus on hepatitis B overview, causes and prevention, common myths and misconceptions, and unmet needs in this area. These sessions will be moderated by NoHep Champions and Hepatitis Ambassadors, so that the community can hear from people with direct experiences of the disease and their voices can be amplified.

Additionally, we will host NoHep Champion Table Talks, which are informal discussions that will consist of young people living with HBV and pregnant women, who will share stories and build community. These talks will touch upon how people are doing physically, as well as with handling stigma, and will identify needed services, insights which can help to determine future programming and practices. These talks will also emphasize that no one is alone, and that hepatitis B is not a death sentence, but that people with HBV can live long and healthy lives. We will also convene community barazas (gatherings) with local leaders, including social workers, health workers, village health teams, hepatitis ambassadors, local council, and cultural, community, and religious leaders to conduct trainings on delivery of the educational materials. These will provide an opportunity to educate and invite open discussion. We will also hold continuing education courses on hepatitis B for healthcare professionals at health facilities, including community health workers, village health teams, and para-social workers. Finally, we are planning to compose a radio jingle related to hepatitis B that will be heard around the district.

Only 1 in 10 people in Kasese know their hepatitis B status. These materials can go a long way in changing that.

CHIPO: Thank you so much for your valuable insights and for all of the work you are doing! Do you have any final thoughts or messages that you would like to share?

Arafat: I would just like to mention our No Hep Mamas campaign, which we are also implementing for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B. We are working to bring this campaign to more health facilities, and share this information in prenatal care settings, as stopping the cycle of transmission is truly the best way to eliminate hepatitis B.

CHIPO: Thank you so much again for your time today, Arafat, and we look forward to more inspiring work from you in the future!

Arafat: Thank you very much!

Eighth Annual Hep B United Summit a Success!

Hep B United is very pleased to report that the eighth annual (and first virtual) Hep B United Summit was a great success! With over 200 attendees from around the US, the summit brought together partners – both new and familiar – to discuss and collaborate on the successes and challenges of the past year, and strategies to move forward toward the elimination of hepatitis B.  

The theme of this year’s summit was “Standing Up for Hepatitis B: Creative Collaborations to Amplify Awareness, Access, and Equity.” The event included many exciting sessions on topics such as progress toward a hepatitis B cure; strategies for providing hepatitis B services in the time of COVID-19; federal updates on hepatitis B; methods for incorporating hepatitis B into viral hepatitis elimination planning efforts at state and local levels; the path to universal adult hepatitis B vaccination; expansion of hepatitis B outreach in non-traditional settings, such as pharmacies, harm reduction centers, and correctional facilities; the pandemic of structural racism and how to bridge gaps in healthcare; and elevating the patient voice to move elimination efforts forward. The event included a poster session with over 20 submissions from presenters around the country, ranging from medical students to organizational partners, and covering a diverse and comprehensive array of topics related to hepatitis B. 

The virtual platform offered a dynamic and engaging experience, with opportunities for networking, game participation, social media involvement, and learning. The Summit concluded with an award ceremony in which nine Hepatitis B Champions and a Federal Champion were honored for their efforts and dedication to hepatitis B advocacy, awareness, prevention, and elimination efforts over the past year. 

 As in previous years, the Summit provided an opportunity for colleagues to gather and to exchange innovative and creative ideas that will help to advance hepatitis B elimination and elevate hepatitis B as an issue deserving of widespread national attention. Recordings of the Summit are available on Hep B United’s YouTube channel – check them out today!

Know Your ABCs

What is Hepatitis?

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.

The Differences

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.

Prevention

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.

 

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/index.htm
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/what-is-hepatitis
  3. https://www.hepb.org/what-is-hepatitis-b/the-abcs-of-viral-hepatitis/

 

Are You At Risk For Hepatitis B

 

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!

 For more information about the Know Hepatitis B Campaign, which is co-branded with Hep B United, visit the campaign website.

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

You can see what each test result means in this table!

Ask your doctor if you should be tested today! 

LGBTQ+ Risk Factors and Hepatitis B

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 providersIf 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.

 

Citations:

  1. 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
  2. https://hepfree.nyc/hep-c-transgender-health/
  3. https://www.hepb.org/what-is-hepatitis-b/hepatitis-c-co-infection/

Does Hepatitis Delta Increase My Risk for Liver Cancer?

 

 

 

 

 

The short answer is, possibly.  Although there is extensive research to support the role of hepatitis delta in accelerating the risk for progression to cirrhosis (liver scarring) compared to hepatitis B infection (1,2) only, strong data directly linking an increase in risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is lacking. It is known that coinfection promotes continually progressing inflammation within the liver by inducing a strong immune response within the body; where it essentially attacks itself (3), but the specific role of hepatitis delta in HCC isn’t fully understood. It gets complicated because although cirrhosis is usually present in hepatitis B patients who also have HCC, but scientists have not pinpointed a specific way that the virus may impact cancer development (4). There have been some small studies that have documented a correlation between hepatitis delta and an increase in HCC, but some analysis’s have even called the extent of its involvement in HCC as ‘controversial’ (5). However, other scientific studies may suggest the contrary.

Because hepatitis delta cannot survive without hepatitis B, and doesn’t integrate into the body the same way, it may not be directly responsible for cancer development, but it has been suggested that the interactions between the two viruses may play a role (6). It has also been suggested that hepatitis delta may play a role in genetic changes, DNA damage, immune response and the activation of certain proteins within the body – similarly to hepatitis B and may amplify the overall cancer risk (7,8). One of these theories even suggests that hepatitis delta inactivates a gene responsible for tumor suppression, meaning it may actually promotes tumor development, a process that has been well-documented in HCC cases (9,10).

Regardless of the specific impact or increase in risk for HCC due to the hepatitis delta virus, hepatitis B is known to increase someone’s risk, with 50-60% of all HCC globally attributable to hepatitis B (11). People with hepatitis delta coinfection still need to be closely monitored by a liver specialist, as 70% of people with both viruses will develop cirrhosis within 5-10 years (12). Monitoring may be blood testing and a liver ultrasound to screen for HCC every 6 months. Closer monitoring may be required if cirrhosis is already present, or to monitor response to treatment (interferon).

For more information about hepatitis delta, visit www.hepdconnect.org.

References:

  1. Manesis EK, Vourli G, Dalekos G. Prevalence and clinical course of hepatitis delta infection in Greece: A 13-year prospective study. J Hepatol. 2013;59:949–956.
  2. Coghill S, McNamara J, Woods M, Hajkowicz K. Epidemiology and clinical outcomes of hepatitis delta (D) virus infection in Queensland, Australia. Int J Infect Dis. 2018;74:123–127.
  3. Zhang Z, Filzmayer C, Ni Y. Hepatitis D virus replication is sensed by MDA5 and induces IFN-β/λ responses in hepatocytes. J Hepatol. 2018;69:25–35.
  4. Nault JC. Pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma according to aetiology. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2014;28:937–947.
  5. Puigvehí, M., Moctezuma-Velázquez, C., Villanueva, A., & Llovet, J. M. (2019). The oncogenic role of hepatitis delta virus in hepatocellular carcinoma. JHEP reports: innovation in hepatology, 1(2), 120–130.
  6. Romeo R, Petruzziello A, Pecheur EI, et al. Hepatitis delta virus and hepatocellular carcinoma: an update. Epidemiol Infect. 2018;146(13):1612‐1618.
  7. Majumdar A, Curley SA, Wu X. Hepatic stem cells and transforming growth factor β in hepatocellular carcinoma. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012;9:530–538.
  8. Mendes M, Pérez-Hernandez D, Vázquez J, Coelho AV, Cunha C. Proteomic changes in HEK-293 cells induced by hepatitis delta virus replication. J Proteomics. 2013;89:24–38.
  9. Chen M, Du D, Zheng W. Small Hepatitis Delta Antigen Selectively Binds to Target mRNA in Hepatic Cells: A Potential Mechanism by Which Hepatitis D Virus Down-Regulates Glutathione S-Transferase P1 and Induces Liver Injury and Hepatocarcinogenesis. Biochem Cell Biol. August 2018.
  10. Villanueva A, Portela A, Sayols S. DNA methylation-based prognosis and epidrivers in hepatocellular carcinoma. 2015;61:1945–1956.
  11. Hayashi PH, Di Bisceglie AM. The progression of hepatitis B- and C-infections to chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma: epidemiology and pathogenesis. Med Clin North Am. 2005;89(2):371‐389.
  12. Abbas, Z., Abbas, M., Abbas, S., & Shazi, L. (2015). Hepatitis D and hepatocellular carcinoma. World journal of hepatology, 7(5), 777–786.