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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.

Results from Hepatitis Delta Clinical Trials Announced at International Liver Congress 2022

London, UK was the host city for this year’s annual International Liver Congress (ILC), the yearly meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), which took place from June 22nd-26th. This meeting provides an opportunity for those working to address liver diseases around the world to gather in one location and exchange ideas, present research, and work to advance diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and elimination of these serious conditions. This year’s meeting saw significant attention given to hepatitis delta, as new treatments continue to move through the pipeline and more widespread approval for prescription of current treatments is sought. Below is a quick snapshot of some of the presentations!

The US-based pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc. demonstrated with results from a Phase 3 clinical trial that treatment with Hepcludex (bulevirtide), the first medication ever approved for hepatitis delta (HDV), has been shown to achieve significant response in chronic HDV. After 48 weeks, 48% of study participants who received different doses of treatment with Hepcludex achieved virological response (meaning a decline in hepatitis delta viral load, ALT normalization, and a change in liver stiffness), compared to only 2% of those who had not received any treatment. When compared to results from clinical trials after 24 weeks, response rates to HDV only improved, showing the drug to be even more effective over time. Throughout the clinical trials, there have been no adverse events reported that are attributable to this treatment.

Hepcludex has also been found to have a positive impact on the quality of life of individuals living with hepatitis delta, and their overall ability to manage the condition. There were improvements found in health distress, performance of daily activities related to hepatitis, emotional impact of hepatitis, and ability to work. This data reinforces the efficacy and safety of Hepcludex and hopefully strengthens the case for approving the drug in more parts of the world.

“As the most severe form of viral hepatitis, HDV presents a significant disease burden with high healthcare-related costs and until recently, no approved treatment options,” said Heiner Wedemeyer, MD, Director, Clinic for Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology at Hannover Medical School, and principal investigator of the study. “These results presented at ILC 2022 not only highlight the important clinical role that bulevirtide has to play as a safe and effective treatment option for chronic HDV, but critically also demonstrate that with prolonged treatment, we can achieve higher response rates so we can better manage this rare, life-threatening disease in more people.”

Presently, Hepcludex has been conditionally approved by the European Commission for prescription in France, Germany, and Austria. It has not yet been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or in other countries. A Biologics License Application was submitted by Gilead to the FDA in late 2021 for injection of 2mg of Hepcludex to treat adults with HDV and compensated liver disease. Hepcludex had previously been granted Breakthrough Therapy and Orphan Drug designations by the FDA and PRIority MEdicines (PRIME) scheme eligibility by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The second company to present their research findings at the ILC was US-based Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, Inc. The two primary hepatitis delta drugs that they have in the pipeline are called lonafarnib and peginterferon lambda. One abstract presentation indicated that peginterferon lambda (lambda) had better antiviral activity and tolerability than peginterferon alfa (the previous version of this drug that has been used as the only somewhat effective, but off-label treatment for hepatitis delta since the early 1980s). Lambda has been shown to block production of new hepatitis delta virus very effectively. Additionally, lambda in combination with lonafarnib was found to lower levels of HDV RNA and decrease its production and release, more effectively than lambda by itself. Patterns in HBV DNA, hepatitis B surface antigen, and ALT were also observed as part of this study. In its Phase 3 D-LIVR study, which is assessing the safety and efficacy of lonafarnib in combination with ritonavir, with and without peginterferon alfa, Eiger has assembled the largest cohort of global participants in an HDV study, and therefore the largest body of data. Results from this study are anticipated by the end of 2022.

The final piece of big hepatitis delta news to come out of the conference was the announcement from Vir Biotechnology Inc. that they are beginning a Phase 2 clinical trial for VIR-2218 in combination with VIR-3434 for the treatment of chronic hepatitis delta. Initial data from this study is anticipated in 2023.

Hepatitis delta is now receiving more attention than ever before and there is only more hope as new treatments are created, investigated, approved, and made available. For a complete overview of hepatitis delta, including basic information, resources, clinical trial opportunities, and a complete list of drugs that are in the pipeline, visit www.hepdconnect.org.

References

https://www.gilead.com/news-and-press/press-room/press-releases/2022/6/treatment-with-hepcludex-bulevirtide-meets-primary-endpoint-and-achieves-significant-response-in-chronic-hepatitis-delta-virus-at-48-weeks

https://www.streetinsider.com/Corporate+News/Vir+Biotechnology+Inc.+%28VIR%29+Announces+New+Clinical+Data+From+its+Broad+Hepatitis+B+Program/20256465.html

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/eiger-biopharmaceuticals-announces-results-from-multiple-presentations-at-the-european-association-for-the-study-of-the-liver-easl-international-liver-congress-2022-301576119.html

2022 – The Year of Hepatitis Delta

2022 is shaping up to be a big year for hepatitis delta, the rare but serious virus that can co-infect people who are already living with hepatitis B. As a quick refresher, hepatitis delta is a virus that depends upon the hepatitis B virus in order to survive and replicate – so only those who are already living with hepatitis B can become infected with hepatitis delta. Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) is believed to infect between 5 and 10% of people living with hepatitis B virus (HBV). HDV can occur through either a superinfection or a coinfection. A superinfection occurs when someone who is already living with HBV contracts HDV, in which case there is a very high chance that the individual will develop chronic (lifelong) infections of both HBV and HDV. A coinfection occurs when both HBV and HDV are contracted at the same time – when this happens in adults, both infections tend to clear within six months and there is only a 5% chance that chronic HBV and HDV will occur. Chronic HDV is particularly dangerous because it advances progression to serious liver damage and liver failure much more quickly than HBV alone – 70% of people diagnosed with HDV and HBV will experience serious liver damage within 10 years without intervention, compared to 15-30% of people diagnosed with HBV alone.

So, What’s Happening in the World of Hepatitis Delta?

The past 18 months have been very important for hepatitis delta research and drug development. In July of 2020, the European Medicines Agency approved Hepcludex, the first-ever drug approved for treatment of hepatitis delta, for prescription in France, Austria, and Germany. Hepcludex works by stopping HDV from entering and infecting liver cells (and is known as an entry inhibitor). In 2021, MYR Pharma, the German company that originally developed Hepcludex, was bought by Gilead Sciences, Inc., which is based in the United States, and which has since filed a Biologics Licensing Agreement for approval of Hepcludex by the US Food and Drug Administration, which is expected later this year. At this time, there is not a timeline for when Hepcludex approval will be expanded to more countries and parts of the world. Prior to Hepcludex, the only drug available for hepatitis delta management, which was never officially approved, was called pegylated interferon alpha. This drug, still in use today, is only effective in controlling HDV in about 25% of people living with the virus and has challenging side effects that can negatively impact quality of life.

In addition to Hepcludex, two other promising drugs are in clinical trials, both developed by Eiger BioPharma in the United States. The first of these is called Lonafarnib, which is being evaluated for how well it works to target the protein assembly process, which keeps new viruses from being created (it is known as a prenylation inhibitor). Lonafarnib, in combination with another drug called Ritonavir, is currently in Phase III clinical trials (the phase in which the safety and effectiveness of a drug is compared to that of currently available treatments). These trials are fully enrolled, and data is expected by the end of 2022. Additionally, Eiger is currently enrolling phase III clinical trials for Pegylated Interferon Lambda, which works by stimulating the body’s own immune system to fight the virus. For a full list of drugs under investigation for hepatitis delta, including one from Janssen Research and Development and one from Antios Therapeutics, visit our Drug Watch page.

Are There Other Clinical Trials Happening for Hepatitis Delta?

 Yes! There are clinical trials happening worldwide to test many of the drugs listed above and more. You can check out our clinical trials page here. This page includes a detailed description of each clinical trial, along with information about where it is being conducted and how to contact the principal investigator (or person leading the clinical trial). This page also includes a helpful graphic describing the clinical trial process and what it takes for a drug to move from an idea into the real world. It is important to note that not all of the trials listed here are for the purpose of testing a medication – some are observational studies to monitor what are called disease biomarkers, which are physical measures used to monitor the progress of a disease and could include tests of blood or liver function, for example. Clinical trials are currently happening in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

When Will HDV Drugs and Clinical Trials Be More Accessible in More Parts of the World?

 This is unfortunately a difficult question to answer. Even though up to 10% of people who are living with hepatitis B are also living with hepatitis delta, there are not good systems in place to make sure that everyone who is living with HBV or who is at increased risk for HDV is tested and diagnosed, so there are not very accurate numbers about how many people in the world are living with HDV. Indeed, of the nearly 300 million people around the world who are living with hepatitis B alone, only 10% are aware of their diagnosis, so this number is undoubtedly far lower than even 10% for hepatitis delta. Without accurate information about how many people are living with the virus, it is difficult for drug and clinical trial developers to invest resources into studying or pursuing drug development or clinical trials for HDV.

Another problem is the many resources of time, money, and labor that are necessary for developing drugs, and preparing and running clinical trials. The development process for a single drug can take anywhere from 5-15 years and a much larger number of drugs fail to complete this process than succeed. Additionally, there needs to be some degree of existing infrastructure in a particular country in order to both support a clinical trial and ultimately to get a drug approved. Unfortunately, this kind of infrastructure is generally already established and easier to navigate in wealthier countries, so these are the countries in which clinical trials are generally held and in which drug approvals tend to happen first. Public health and clinical infrastructure is slowly developing and becoming more prioritized in different parts of the world and hopefully this trend will continue, but for the time being, the locations of clinical trials and approvals for important treatments point to the much larger issues of lack of access to health and healthcare in much of the world, that in turn stem from deep-seated poverty and inequity. Again, as health equity continues to be a focus of the public eye, these trends will hopefully begin to change, paving the way for greater access to healthcare for hepatitis delta, hepatitis B, and countless other health conditions.

What Is Hep Delta Connect’s Role?

 This year, Hep Delta Connect will continue its work to raise the profile of hepatitis delta, both in the United States and around the world. We are committed to building awareness through partnerships with community-based organizations, healthcare providers, and governmental agencies around the world and through dissemination of educational materials and programming. We hope to foster greater engagement of those living with and affected by hepatitis delta globally, more focused advocacy efforts to bring HDV into the spotlight, and increased screening, diagnosis, and management of HDV. We keep our website and social media channels updated regularly with program news and events – make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and check out our website frequently! You are always welcome to connect with us anytime at connect@hepdconnect.org. We look forward to an exciting year of work on HDV!

Eiger Presents Clinical Trial Results at The Liver Meeting Digital Experience™ 2020

By Beatrice Zovich

The 2020 meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) in November offered the opportunity for scientists from industry and academia to present their findings from clinical trials, studying new medications for hepatitis B and D. Two such presentations were given by Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, Inc. who presented their findings about how well their medications peginterferon lambda and lonafarnib work, both independently and in combination, to treat hepatitis delta virus (HDV) and halt liver fibrosis. The results are promising and offer hope for those affected by HDV.

The two medicines under investigation in these studies work in different ways. Lonafarnib works by blocking farnesyl transferase, an enzyme involved in prenylation, the modification of proteins that is necessary for the life cycle of HDV. Peginterferon lambda, on the other hand, triggers immune responses that are crucial for host protection during viral infections. Lambda can also target liver cells accurately, thus reducing the effects of inadvertently targeting central nervous system cells and making it more tolerable to those taking it (Eiger, 2020).

Eiger’s first study examined how well peginterferon lambda and lonafarnib (known as LIFT – Lambda InterFeron combo Therapy) work together to lower levels of HDV RNA, 24 weeks post-treatment (Eiger, 2020). This was a Phase 2 study. Lambda was administered at a dosage of 180 mcg once weekly, in combination with 50 mg of Lonafarnib and 100 mg of ritonavir given twice daily, for 24 weeks. The results of this study found that 77% of the 26 participants saw their HDV RNA levels decline and reach a level that was either undetectable or below the level of quantification. 23% of these participants were able to maintain these levels for 24 weeks after treatment had ended. Both tenofovir and entecavir were started prior to treatment for management of HBV. The observed side effects of this regimen were mild to moderate and included mostly gastrointestinal issues or were related to blood chemistry (Eiger, 2020).

The second study found that peginterferon lambda caused the regression of liver fibrosis after 48 weeks of treatment in people living with hepatitis delta. Two case studies emerged from the completed Phase 2 LIMT (Lambda Interferon MonoTherapy) study (Eiger, 2020). In these studies, a total of 33 participants received either 180 µg or 120 µg of lambda subcutaneous injections weekly for 48 weeks. Results indicated that degrees of liver fibrosis and levels of HDV RNA declined below the level of quantification in some participants, even after 72 weeks in a handful of cases. In some instances, ALT levels decreased as well. Side effects were found to be mild to moderate and fewer than those experienced by participants who had taken peginterferon alpha in the past. Side effects were primarily flu-like in nature (Eiger, 2020). 

Therapies for hepatitis B and D will only continue to improve and become more precise and targeted as time goes by. Check out the Hepatitis Delta Connect website for detailed information on HDV, as well as current clinical trials and a drug watch page, both of which are updated regularly. (A brand-new clinical trial has just been added!) For more information about Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, click here

References

Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, Inc. (2020, November 17). Eiger Announces Positive Peginterferon Lambda – Lonafarnib Combination End of Study Results from Phase 2 LIFT HDV Study in Late-Breaker Session at The Liver Meeting Digital Experience™ 2020. Retrieved December 30, 2020, from https://www.biospace.com/article/releases/eiger-announces-positive-peginterferon-lambda-lonafarnib-combination-end-of-study-results-from-phase-2-lift-hdv-study-in-late-breaker-session-at-the-liver-meeting-digital-experience-2020/

Eiger BioPharmaceuticals, I. (2020, November 16). Eiger Announces Case Studies Demonstrating Regression of Liver Fibrosis Following 48 Weeks of Therapy with Peginterferon Lambda in Patients with Chronic Hepatitis Delta Virus (HDV) Infection Presented at The Liver Meeting Digital Experience™ 2020. Retrieved December 30, 2020, from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/eiger-announces-case-studies-demonstrating-regression-of-liver-fibrosis-following-48-weeks-of-therapy-with-peginterferon-lambda-in-patients-with-chronic-hepatitis-delta-virus-hdv-infection-presented-at-the-liver-meeting-digital–301173992.html 

Clinical Trials Finder – Find A Clinical Trial Near You!

 

The Hepatitis B Foundation is thrilled to announce the addition of a new clinical trials search tool to our website! People around the world can now easily search for clinical trial opportunities on the Hepatitis B Foundation website. Created by Antidote – a company that designs technologies to link patients with scientific opportunities – the new tool filters through all of the trials listed in the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s database of private and publicly funded studies. Searching for clinical trials can be time-consuming and confusing to navigate, but this resource eases the process by finding the best trials for you based upon a series of questions.

You can now search for hepatitis B, hepatitis D and liver cancer clinical trials with a few simple clicks! Clinical trials are a series of research phases that a new drug must go through in order to be approved for widespread use. They are an essential to proving that a treatment is safe and effective for the larger population. Generally, these trials take 10-15 years to go from the laboratory to the public, but delays in finding or retaining enough volunteers can extend the process. 

Diverse participation in clinical trials is needed to make sure that a treatment is effective for all groups. Research diversity matters greatly for several reasons. Studies have shown that different races and ethnicities may respond differently to a certain medication. In addition, researchers need to examine the impact of the medication on the populations that will eventually use them. According to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), individuals from Africa and Asia or of African and Asian descent consistently remain underrepresented in clinical trials; these populations are also disproportionately impacted by hepatitis B.  If these groups are underrepresented in trials for hepatitis B treatments, new drugs may not be as effective in these communities, or there may be side effects that researchers were not aware of. 

How Our Clinical Trials Finder Works 

 Using our Clinical Trial Finder takes just a few minutes. After clicking the ‘search’ button, the user will answer a series of questions of general demographic and health questions to determine what trials are near you and you fit the criteria for. You will be able to view the available trials at any point while answering questions, but answering all of the questions will give you the best results. You will also have the option to leave your email to receive personalized trial alerts for new trials that you are eligible for in your area! The new tool is designed to match those who wish to join a clinical trial to the best option for them; it is not designed to benefit any company.

 Benefits of Participating in Clinical Trials

While participating in clinical trials helps drug developers, it can also provide major benefits to the participant as well! Blood work, treatments, and monitoring – which can be expensive –  are often provided for free to those who are eligible for the duration of their participation in the study. Volunteers can also potentially benefit from the latest medical advancements and developments! 

Help Improve the Future of Clinical Trials 

5You can also help improve the future of drug development and clinical trials by taking our patient engagement survey! The survey, which takes approximately 20-25 minutes to complete, will be made available for use by the US FDA and drug development researchers to help clinical trial development for future hepatitis B therapies. All survey responses are anonymous.  

 

Where Can I Order Hepatitis Delta Testing?

By Sierra Pellechio, BS, CHES, Hepatitis Delta Connect Program Manager

Historically, testing for hepatitis delta has been difficult to access and often not commercially available. With the rise in awareness about hepatitis B and delta coinfection, more tests are beginning to be offered by multiple labs for clinicians in the United States looking to test their patients. Because hepatitis delta can only infect people who also have hepatitis B, the Hepatitis B Foundation’s medical director and leading hepatologist Dr. Robert Gish recommends testing all hepatitis B patients for hepatitis delta. “Screening all hepatitis B patients will allow a better understanding of hepatitis delta prevalence and its impact on outcomes and will identify patients who can be offered treatment within or outside clinical trials.”

The first step in diagnosing an infection is the HDV antibody total (anti-HDV) test. Patients who have recovered from or are currently infected will be positive for the anti-HDV and will present high titers in later stages of acute infection and persist in cases of chronic infection. If the HDV antibody total test is positive, it should be followed by the HDV RNA (PCR) test to confirm an active infection. If this test is negative, a current infection is unlikely.

Testing hepatitis B patients for hepatitis delta is important because when people with hepatitis B are exposed to the hepatitis delta virus, 90% will develop a chronic infection1. Coinfection will alter treatment and management plans, because antivirals effective on hepatitis B do not control hepatitis delta2. While the standard treatment of interferon is less than 30% effective in controlling coinfection, there are new drugs in development. With two of these drugs set to enter phase 3 clinical trials in 2019, it is more important than ever to identify coinfected patients and connect patients into clinical trials.

Until recently, only the anti-HDV test was widely available in the United States. In February 2019, Quest Diagnostics began offering HDV RNA testing, making it easier for patients and their physicians to access this more detailed level of testing. A complete list of labs offering testing is below.

Quest Diagnostics (US)

Tests Offered:

ARUP Laboratories (US) 

Tests Offered:

Cambridge Biomedical (US, Limited States)

Tests Offered:

Mayo Clinic Laboratories (US)

Tests Offered:

Viracor (US)

Tests Offered:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (US & International)

Tests Offered:

  • HDV Antibody Total
  • HDV RNA
  • Genotyping

Disclaimer: This may not be a comprehensive list of all available labs offering testing.

Please note, if you are a patient in the U.S. and wish to be tested for hepatitis delta, these tests must be ordered through a clinician.

It is very important for coinfected patients to be managed by a liver specialist who is familiar with managing coinfected patients. For assistance in locating a specialist near you, please visit our Physician Directory page. For additional questions, please visit www.hepdconnect.org, email connect@hepdconnect.org, or call our hotline at 215-489-4900.

References:

  1. Hooks, B., Billings, J., & Herrera, J. (2009). Hepatitis D Virus. Practical Gastroenterology.

2. Farci, P., & Anna Niro, G. (2018). Current and Future Management of Chronic Hepatitis D. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 14(6), 342-35

What’s the Difference: Hepatitis B vs Hepatitis C?

With five different types of viral hepatitis, it can be difficult to understand the differences between them. Some forms of hepatitis get more attention than others, but it is still important to know how they are transmitted, what they do, and the steps that you can take to protect yourself and your liver!

This is part one in a three-part series.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver”. A liver can become inflamed for many reasons, such as too much alcohol, physical injury, autoimmune response, or a reaction to bacteria or a virus. The five most common hepatitis viruses are A, B, C, D, and E. Some hepatitis viruses can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure, or even liver cancer. Damage to the liver reduces its ability to function and makes it harder for your body to filter out toxins.

Both hepatitis B and C are blood-borne pathogens, which means that their primary mode of transmission is through direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. Also, both hepatitis B and C can cause chronic, lifelong infections that can lead to serious liver disease. Hepatitis B is most commonly spread from mother-to-child during birth while hepatitis C is more commonly spread through the use of unclean needles used to inject drugs.

 

Hepatitis B vs. Hepatitis C

Despite having an effective vaccine, hepatitis B is the world’s most common liver infection; over 292 million people around the world are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis B. While hepatitis C tends to get more attention and research funding, hepatitis B is considerably more common and causes more liver-related cancer and death worldwide than hepatitis C. Combined, chronic hepatitis B and C account for approximately 80% of the world’s liver cancer cases. However, studies show that those with chronic hepatitis B are more likely to die from liver-related complications than those who are infected with hepatitis C. With hepatitis C, most people develop cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, before liver cancer. In certain cases of hepatitis B, liver cancer can develop without any signs of cirrhosis, which makes it extremely difficult to predict the virus’ impacts on the body, and makes screening for liver cancer more complicated.

The hepatitis B virus is also approximately 5-10 times more infectious than hepatitis C, and far more stable. It can survive – and remain highly contagious – on surfaces outside of the body for up to 7 days if it is not properly cleaned with a disinfectant or a simple bleach solution. A new study suggests that the hepatitis B virus has the ability to survive in extreme temperatures, whereas the hepatitis C virus has been known to survive outside of the body for a short period of time on room-temperature surfaces. However, more research will need to be done on the topic.

Another major difference between the two forms of hepatitis is how the virus attacks a cell. The hepatitis C virus operates like other viruses; it enters a healthy cell and produces copies of itself that

Hepatitis C Virus
Courtesy of Google Images

go on to infect other healthy cells. The hepatitis B virus reproduces in a similar fashion, but with one large difference – covalently closed circular DNA. Covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) is a structure that is unique to only a few viruses. Unlike a typical virus, hepatitis B’s cccDNA permanently integrates itself into a healthy cell’s DNA – a component of the cell that allows it to function properly and produce more healthy cells. The cccDNA resides within an essential area of the cell called the nucleus and can remain there even if an infected person’s hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) levels are undetectable. Its presence means that a person with chronic hepatitis B may have a risk of reactivation even if the HBsAg levels have been undetectable for a long period of time. The complex nature and integration process of cccDNA contributes to the difficulties of finding a cure for hepatitis B. The cccDNA’s location inside of the nucleus is especially troublesome because it makes it difficult to isolate and destroy the cccDNA without harming the rest of the cell.

Hepatitis C, on the other hand, has a cure! Approved by the FDA in 2013, the cure is in the form of an antiviral pill that is taken once a day over the course of 8-12 weeks. For hepatitis C, a cure is defined as a sustained virologic response (SVR), which means that the virus is not detected in a person’s blood 3 months after treatment has been completed. In the United States, an affordable, generic version of the hepatitis C cure is set to be released by Gilead Sciences, Inc. in January 2019.

People living with chronic hepatitis B are susceptible to hepatitis Delta. Only people with hepatitis B can contract hepatitis D as well. Hepatitis Delta is considered to be the most severe form of hepatitis because of its potential to quickly lead to more serious liver disease than hepatitis B alone. Of the 292 million people living with chronic hepatitis B, approximately 15-20 million are also living with hepatitis D. Unlike HIV and hepatitis C coinfections, there are currently no FDA approved treatments for hepatitis Delta. However, there are ongoing clinical trials that are researching potential treatments!

Hepatitis B/C Coinfection

It is possible to have both hepatitis B and C at the same time. The hepatitis C virus may appear more dominant and reduce hepatitis B to low or undetectable levels in the bloodstream. Prior to curative treatment for hepatitis C, it is important for people to get tested for hepatitis B using the three-part blood test (HBsAg, anti-HBc total and anti-HBs). People currently infected with hepatitis B (HBsAg positive) or those who have recovered from past infection (HBsAg negative and anti-HBc positive) should be carefully managed according to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) treatment guidelines in order to avoid dangerous elevation of liver enzymes resulting in liver damage.

How to Protect Yourself   

The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family against hepatitis B. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, you can protect yourself from both liver infections by following simple precautions! Simple steps such as not sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes, thoroughly washing your hands, and disinfecting surfaces that have been in contact with blood, can keep your liver healthy!

 

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.

Karen and Dave’s Story

One Couple’s Journey through Hepatitis B, Hepatitis D and Liver Cancer

“Dave knew he had hepatitis B for decades, but honestly, no one ever seemed concerned. His liver
enzymes were slightly elevated, so the doctor told him to just watch what he ate and drank. He didn’t
even insist on bi-yearly blood tests!

In 2016, Dave was scheduled for a routine colonoscopy. Because he’d been looking pale and sickly
around that time, I suggested they do a blood test first at his family doctor. His numbers were off the
chart. They sent us back for the colonoscopy and added an endoscopy too. They found four varices
(enlarged veins in the esophagus that can indicate serious liver disease). How did this happen?

This was when I started to get angry. The gastroenterologist called us in to discuss the results. He asked
if Dave knew he had hepatitis B. Dave said yes, knowing his drug use in his teens and early twenties was
likely the source. Dave never felt shame about it at all, and just accepted it as a path he took, and
thankfully came out of. After that conversation, the doctor slammed his chart shut and pushed it across
the desk. He said that Dave’s liver was so badly damaged that there was nothing he could do and to
‘come back in a year’. When we asked about his options for treatment for the varices and his hepatitis B,
he actually told me that no one would treat the varices unless they were bleeding! He also told us that
hepatitis B antivirals would “make things worse”. That didn’t make sense. We asked about a transplant.
He said there was ‘no way’ anyone would give him a new liver. He didn’t even let us know that there
were actual liver clinics for this very purpose. He sent Dave away to die, really.

Many months later, with much perseverance, we made it to Stanford, where he was immediately put on
entecavir to treat his hepatitis B and to hopefully relieve some of his liver damage. That doctor alerted
us that he should also be tested for hepatitis D, a coinfection of hepatitis B. “It won’t be good if you have
it.” He did.

Due to changes in our health insurance, we were sent to continue at the University of California San
Francisco Liver Center…they were our saving grace. They treated the varices right away and put him on
other medications to help his failing systems. His hepatitis B viral load was now undetectable, with
hepatitis D being the biggest concern. Dave tried interferon to treat the hepatitis D, but with no luck. His
only chance was a transplant, but even though he was doing poorly, his test results didn’t qualify him to
get on the transplant list right away. He had lots of ER visits – 210 office visits in 2017 alone. It was a
whirlwind. Dave hadn’t even driven in 2 ½ years. It was an enormous stress on me, too.

Dave developed liver cancer but wasn’t in good enough shape to go through treatment. As he got sicker,
he eventually qualified for two different                  
liver transplant waiting lists. Finally, on
Thanksgiving night 2017, we got the call
that a healthy liver was available, and we
took it.
Caregiving is a very tough road. Especially
when your person also has encephalopathy,
caused by years of liver damage – and Dave
had it really bad. The encephalopathy
caused mood swings, short-term memory
loss, hand tremors, low appetite. He could
be down-right nasty. At that time, we were
doing the 4 ½ hour drive to San Francisco
once or twice a week. It was stressful for
both of us – and he was really unaware of
the stress that was put on me. Between
driving, taking out the garbage, bills, our
construction business…you name it, I did it
all.

The first 3-4 months out of the transplant, people were telling him all that had gone on. Much to my
frustration, he didn’t believe any of it! Now, over 6 months post-transplant, little things are coming back
to him. I showed him about 2 dozen pictures of him during his journey, and he was shocked! He said he
thought he was fooling everyone into thinking he was well.

The hardest part of this journey was seeing Dave so sick at times. I spent a lot of time in my closet
crying. It was hard on our adult girls too, to see their dad so weak and disoriented. I had a lot of support
through our girls though, and my family, which made a world of a difference. My sister is also a retired
nurse, and she accompanied us to most of our visits. She was a helpful adviser, since his medications
always needed tweaking, and we were often on long calls with our care team, health insurance
company, and pharmacies.

The good we took away is his health! He still doesn’t feel it’s real. We went through so much, and are so
grateful to be on the other side.

Things I’ve learned:
• Get on a Facebook forum for liver transplant patients…they are a great resource and a wealth of
information from other patients.
• Take a third person with you to doctor visits and procedures. At times, I was so consumed with
my concern for Dave, it was easy for me to forget some of the things we discussed. My sister
would take notes, and we would review them after.
• Always get a second opinion if you don’t have a good feeling about your doctor. You will all
become a team, and it’s important to have a team you can trust.
• Get on the transplant list at multiple hospitals, their criteria for transplant varies!
• Have willing family members and friends get tested to see if they are donor matches. Usually the
recipient’s insurance will pay for the testing and survey if they are a match. My sister-in-law and
I were both tested but were not a match.
• Ask about organ swap programs. Apparently, my kidneys were in perfect health. My
hepatologist had me apply to the kidney donor program, in hopes that I may be able to donate
my kidney in exchange for a piece of someone’s liver for Dave.
• Dave was put on depression and anxiety medication early in the process. He was initially very
resistant, mostly because of the stigma. His doctors finally convinced him it would be very
helpful for his general mood…it was!
• I had to make several phone calls to his team without his knowing. Encephalopathy really makes
you confused, and in Dave’s case, grumpy. I asked the doctor to push for the depression and
anxiety medications, which she did. Also, he wouldn’t exercise or take short walks before
surgery, which she had asked him to, to better prepare for surgery. I made the phone call, and
at the next visit, she set him up with a Fitbit! It helped that the ‘suggestions’ came from his
doctor and not me!
• After the transplant, I was so surprised he wasn’t more ‘thankful’ …that he wasn’t in awe of
what we had all gone through for HIM! I got angry with him. I made a private call to our new
post-transplant team. She said depression right after is very common. The patient feels
overwhelmed, and sometimes not very thankful. It’s kind of a way to deny they were in trouble,
to deny that they needed help. That fits my man to a tee!
• I would strongly suggest lots of patience after the transplant. I wish our team would have told
me the possible mental-state Dave might be in. Don’t force them to be thankful. Don’t play the
‘remember when’ game, “remember when I drove you to the ER in the middle of the night?
Remember when they told us you had cancer? Remember when I tried to be your donor?”
Because a lot of it he doesn’t remember.
• Take pictures along the way, but don’t show them until at least 6 months out. I showed Dave
pictures right away, and they didn’t resonate. I just showed him them the other night…and he
was floored! He really ‘got it’. He’s been looking at things differently lately: he’s calmer and
more loving.
• I wish I had kept a journal. The ups and downs of this journey were sometimes excruciating, and
Dave wasn’t ‘present’ to understand it. Hire cleaning help if needed. Get family and friends to
take the patient to lesser important appointments. Don’t let household things pile up on you. Fix
the gutter. Repair the screen. Hire a gardener for a few hours. Ask family to set things up for
you. It’s amazing how in two years without Dave to physically help around the house, things
started to go south pretty quickly! Luckily, I dug in and kept up.

Quite the journey for sure. I feel blessed to be on this side of health!”

– Karen

Hepatitis Delta: Coinfection vs. Superinfection

By Sierra Pellechio, Hepatitis Delta Connect Coordinator

Hepatitis delta is an aggressive form of hepatitis that can only exist alongside hepatitis B. This means that all hepatitis B patients are at risk for hepatitis delta, but so are people who have not received the hepatitis B vaccination series.

If contracted, 70-90% of people with chronic hepatitis B will go on to also develop a chronic hepatitis delta infection – called a “superinfection”. Approximately 70% of these cases will progress to cirrhosis (liver scarring), compared to 15-30% of those infected only with the hepatitis B virus.

Due to the likelihood of liver complications, hepatitis B patients should be aware of potential exposures to hepatitis delta. The virus is spread the same way as hepatitis B, through direct blood-to-blood contact and unprotected sex with an infected person. It is important to be aware that blood contact could also occur by exposure to unsafe blood transfusions, unsterile medical or dental equipment, and the sharing of razors or toothbrushes with an infected person due to the possibility of infected blood entering the body.

People who are not infected with hepatitis B may be at risk for “coinfection”, when someone contracts hepatitis B and delta simultaneously during one exposure. In these cases, greater than 90% of adults will clear both infections and develop protective antibodies. While a co-infection generally resolves spontaneously after about 6 months, it can sometimes result in a life-threatening or fatal liver failure.

The good news is that the hepatitis B vaccine series can prevent both viruses in people who are not already infected. Once completed, the vaccine can provide a lifetime of protection!

For more information about hepatitis B/delta coinfection, please visit www.hepdconnect.org or email us at connect@hepdconnect.org.