Hep B Blog

Tag Archives: Screening

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!

Fighting the Doom and Gloom: Screening Saves Lives!

blood tubes

By Anu Hosangadi

Liver Cancer Connect’s “Fighting the Doom and Gloom” series is highlighting some of the advances in prevention, screening, and treatment that are helping to increase survival among people with liver cancer. Previously, we talked about how prevention works. Now we’ll explain how screening and surveillance save lives.
Continue reading "Fighting the Doom and Gloom: Screening Saves Lives!"

Fighting the Doom and Gloom: It Takes a Team

universal-health-care-medical-team

By Anu Hosangadi

People generally think liver cancer is non-treatable and non-curable. But that perception needs to change. Diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer have improved so much in the past 20 years that it can be cured if caught early and managed by an experienced health care team. Liver Cancer Connects “Fighting the Doom and Gloom” series explains how the right treatment plan  and teamwork offer the best chances for a cure.  Continue reading "Fighting the Doom and Gloom: It Takes a Team"

Finding the Missing Millions in Ghana

Theobald Owusu-Ansah, President of the Hepatitis Foundation of Ghana and Hepatitis Coalition of Ghana and Guest Blogger, shares his efforts to eliminate hepatitis B in Ghana.

Viral Hepatitis is very common in Ghana, but awareness and testing has remained low. The Hepatitis Foundation of Ghana is working hard to address these gaps. Our mission is to eliminate viral hepatitis and improve the quality of life for those living with chronic hepatitis B and C in Ghana. We have a robust viral hepatitis community screening and awareness program. Through this program, we are working to reduce hepatitis B and C transmission among people in Agona, a farming community in the Nzema East Municipality of the Western region, Ketu South of the Volta Region, Kumasi in the Ashanti Region and Sekondi Komfoase and Takoradi in the Western; and also raise awareness on viral hepatitis infection, reducing stigma and discrimination through free screening, vaccination and education activities. Since this program started, we have made great progress towards these goals! Read on to learn about our most recent successes:

EVENT AT AGONA ON 22ND DECEMBER, 2017

The Hepatitis Foundation of Ghana held a free hepatitis B screening, education and community gathering in Agona, a farming community in the Nzema East Municipality of the Western region A total of 101 persons were screened for hepatitis B. In all, 6 people tested positive for hepatitis B. Those who tested positive were counselled and referred to the district hospital for proper care and treatment.

EVENT AT KETU SOUTH ON 23RD DECEMBER, 2017

Hepatitis B free screening and education were held at Ketu South, a community in the Volta region. A total of 244 persons were screened for hepatitis B. In all, 6 people tested positive. They were counselled and referred to the district hospital for proper care and treatment.

There have been some deaths reported within the community as a result of viral hepatitis according to the people in the community. Interestingly, a majority of the people attributed them to some form of spiritual or traditional mishaps. This was due to the lack of awareness on the risks of viral hepatitis. To help overcome these myths, hepatitis educational materials such as pamphlets and stickers were delivered to the community.

EVENT WITH VOLTIC GHANA LTD IN KUMASI ON 1st MARCH, 2018.

VENUE: KNUST CAMPUS. 

We worked with the Zoom Lion division of the Voltic Ghana Ltd, providing free hepatitis B and C testing.

Those who tested negative were provided with the first two doses of the hepatitis B vaccine. They were also educated and encouraged to spread the knowledge they had received. The people expressed their appreciation for the gesture at the end of the program and promised to get their last dose of hepatitis B vaccine!

EVENT AT SEKONDI KOMFOASE AND TAKORADI ON THE 25TH TO 26TH MAY, 2018

This special event began with a health walk through the streets in the Sekondi Komfoase area and followed with a hepatitis health talk and screening. Most of the people were afraid to come and do the hepatitis B and C tests because of some common perceptions on the radio and TV. I was able to share my family story with them, and that helped some of them come forward to do the test. The screening continued the next day at Home Church in Takoradi. Overcoming misperceptions about hepatitis B is very challenging – but we were able to screen179 persons, and are following up with all of those who tested positive.

There is a lot of work still to be done in Ghana, but we will keep working to change knowledge, overcome challenges and get people tested, vaccinated and treated!

Thank you to Theobald for serving as our guest blogger this week! If you would like more information from Theobald Owusu-Ansah or the Hepatitis Foundation of Ghana, please visit their website or contact them here

Celebrate Mothers’ Day with High-Quality Healthcare First, Sentimentality Second

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

In 1914, the United States designated the second Sunday in May as “Mothers’ Day.” Its founder, Anna Jarvis, hoped the holiday would focus on her own mother’s work promoting peace and public health. Years later, Jarvis protested loudly when the holiday became better known for sentimentality and greeting card sales.

Our nation often loses sight of a holiday’s original intent, but this Mother’s Day we can bring back the goal of preserving public health, especially where it concerns mothers and infectious diseases.

Decades ago, researchers developed one of the most extraordinary life-saving vaccines–hepatitis B immunization. It saves lives in two ways: It protects children and adults from infection and it breaks the vicious cycle of mother-to-child infection. A baby born to a hepatitis B-infected almost always becomes infected. The vaccine, administered within hours of birth, breaks that cycle.

When the vaccine debuted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most people with chronic hepatitis B had been infected at birth. When newborns and children are infected, their immune systems don’t recognize or attack the virus and the infection can continue indefinitely.

To stop this infection cycle, today all pregnant women are screened for hepatitis B. Babies born to infected women are immediately vaccinated and treated with HBIG (hepatitis B antibodies). This public health initiative has been extremely successful in dramatically reducing hepatitis B. However, the campaign’s focus has been primarily on newborns and the hepatitis B-infected mothers were often forgotten. Though hepatitis B infections had been identified, the infected mothers were often lost to follow-up, and this neglect continues today. Continue reading "Celebrate Mothers’ Day with High-Quality Healthcare First, Sentimentality Second"

It’s Hepatitis Awareness Month: Five Reasons We Don’t Get Tested, and How to Overcome Them

Members of Drexel University's Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association participate in a hepatitis B screening program at a Chinese Christian church in Philadelphia.
Members of Drexel University’s Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association participate in a hepatitis B screening program at a Chinese Christian church in Philadelphia.

May is Hepatitis Awareness month. Why do we need an annual reminder about hepatitis B? Because 65 percent of the estimated 2.2 million people in the U.S. living with hepatitis B don’t know they’re infected.

Studies show when people know their hepatitis B status, they’re more likely to get monitored regularly, get treatment, and take steps to avoid passing on the disease to partners and their children.

So why are so many Americans unaware of their hepatitis B infection? Here are five roadblocks that stop us from getting tested for hepatitis B, and what how we can do to overcome them.

We feel fine, so we assume we’re not infected. Hepatitis B rarely causes symptoms. There are very few sensory nerves around the liver, so when a viral hepatitis infection strikes, we rarely feel its effects. As a result, most of us – especially if we were infected as children or newborns – never experience any symptoms for decades. So remember, “feeling OK” is no excuse to avoid testing. Continue reading "It’s Hepatitis Awareness Month: Five Reasons We Don’t Get Tested, and How to Overcome Them"

Beating the Odds: A Liver Cancer Survivor’s Story

Liver cancer, caused by hepatitis B and C, is on the rise in the U.S. and it is also the second deadliest. Fewer than 15 percent of patients with liver cancer will survive five years after their diagnosis. It is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths among Asian-Americans and the eighth-leading cause of cancer deaths among Caucasian-Americans.

Despite this bleak outlook, there are people with liver cancer who are beating the odds and surviving. The medical community is also working hard to develop new drugs and effective strategies to treat liver cancer. Here is one survivor’s story.

By Frank Gardea

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In late 2008, during routine testing before surgery, I found out I had hepatitis C and liver cirrhosis. It was a double whammy because having both viral hepatitis and cirrhosis put me at high risk for liver cancer.

Then the abdominal pain started. I suffered for almost three years and was in and out of the emergency department. They could not pinpoint the cause of the pain. When they finally diagnosed my liver cancer, the tumor was over 8 cm in size. Continue reading "Beating the Odds: A Liver Cancer Survivor’s Story"

“Hepatitis on the Hill” Advocates Fight for Hepatitis Prevention, And So Can You

Hepatitis on the Hill advocates, March 2016.
Hepatitis on the Hill advocates, March 2016.

On Tuesday, March 8, more than 120 advocates from across the U.S. fanned out on Capitol Hill to talk to their representatives about the importance of funding the Viral Hepatitis Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dozens of people laid their hearts on the line and told their stories about how they, their families, and friends have been touched by hepatitis.

In meetings with Congressional staff, and in some cases their senators, they shared stories about family members who discovered they had hepatitis B only when they were diagnosed with late-stage, inoperable liver cancer. Others talked about how lucky they were to have been immunized at birth, considering their mothers were infected. Courageous advocates described losing loved ones to hepatitis B and C spread through the heroin epidemic, and recalled indifferent healthcare workers who saw only addicts instead of human beings who had  lost their battle with both addiction and hepatitis.

Our goal was to get our representatives to allocate more funding for CDC’s hepatitis division, which is sorely needed. It’s CDC’s job to investigate disease outbreaks and educate the public and healthcare providers about infectious disease. For example, CDC publishes a variety of reports and promotional materials to educate people how to protect themselves against hepatitis B and C. The agency also funds a “hepatitis coordinator” in nearly every state whose job it is to help prevent hepatitis, investigate outbreaks, and collect data—a Herculean task for just one person. Continue reading "“Hepatitis on the Hill” Advocates Fight for Hepatitis Prevention, And So Can You"

Diagnosed With Chronic Hepatitis B? What Does Your HBV DNA Test (Viral Load) Tell You?

Image courtesy of Praisaeng, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Praisaeng, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

If you have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B, your doctor has probably run several blood tests that show if the infection is harming your liver and identify what stage of infection you are in.  Doctors consider all of these results when deciding if you need treatment and how often you should be monitored.

In this blog, we’ll examine how one of the tests — the HBV DNA or viral load test –can give you a snapshot into your hepatitis B infection and your health. The HBV DNA test  is performed on a blood sample using a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technique that rapidly generates HBV DNA fragments so they can be measured. Today, viral load is usually measured using international units per milliliter (IU/mL). However, in the past it was measured in copies per milliliter (copies/mL), and in some regions and labs, it is still used.

If you ever need to convert copies into international units, there are about 5.6 copies in one international unit, so 5,000 copies/mL equals about 893 IU/mL. Remember to keep copies of your lab information on file so you can track your status. An Excel spreadsheet works great.

The sensitivity of HBV DNA tests may vary with each lab so it’s a good idea to use the same lab for your test. Labs usually measure down to less than 200 IU/mL. Below the threshold, the viral load is considered “undetectable” – something everyone with chronic hepatitis B wants to hear.

How HBV DNA results are presented mathematically on your lab report can be confusing. Because the amount of virus in the blood may be very high – in the millions or billions – the result may be displayed as an exponent or a log, rather than a whole number. You may need to convert these numbers to fully understand them.

What does viral load say about what stage of the virus you are in? Your viral load also varies over time depending  on the “stage” of hepatitis B infection. That is why regular monitoring is so important. 

Children and adults in the “immune tolerant” stage can have viral loads in the millions or even billions. It sounds scary, but it’s not unusual. Your viral load can remain very high for decades until your immune system begins attacking the virus. Most children and young adults who test positive for the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg) generally have high viral loads, though doctors typically don’t treat patients in this stage. Once their immune systems get rid of HBeAg and generate “e” antibodies (HBeAb), their viral loads begin to decline and liver enzymes (ALT/AST) normalize.

Adults with undetectable or low viral loads and no signs of liver damage are in an “inactive” stage. Adults with normal ALT (SGPT) levels, which usually indicate no current  liver inflammation, and undetectable or viral loads less than 2,000 IU/mL generally do not require treatment. However, it is important to confirm with your doctor that there is no evidence of advanced liver disease. This phase may be lifelong, decades, or not long at all. That is why monitoring in this inactive phase remains important.

People in the “active” stage with elevated viral loads and signs of liver damage need treatment. These may be people that are HBeAg positive and unable to seroconvert and lose HBeAg and gain the antibody without experiencing significant liver damage. There may be a pattern of SGPT/ALT elevation that cycles up and down over time without mounting an adequate immune response to seroconvert. This can be dangerous, causing liver damage, which is  why regular monitoring is key. You want to give your immune system the opportunity to try to mount an immune response and seroconvert but not at the expense of extensive liver damage. That’s why a knowledgeable doctor is so important!

Many people in their 40s, 50s or 60s, develop HBeAg-negative hepatitis B, though this may occur in younger individuals as well. Although individuals may have seroconverted and lost HBeAg (HBeAg negative/HBeAb positive), the virus is able to mutate allowing it to keep replicating, putting these patients at risk of liver damage. They may see the viral load start to creep up along with SGPT/ALT. Eventually they may require treatment with antivirals based on clinical guidelines doctors follow to manage their patients. Once again, monitoring is key!

Why is it important to measure HBV DNA during treatment? When daily antiviral pills (either tenofovir or entecavir) are prescribed, doctors measure your HBV DNA to see if the drug is working to reduce your viral load. Antivirals work by meddling with the viral DNA so the virus cannot reproduce effectively. Doctors measure your viral load to make sure the antiviral is working.

Why is measuring viral load important if you’re pregnant? Today, all pregnant women are screened for hepatitis B, and experts also want their viral loads to be measured. When pregnant women have high viral loads—exceeding 200,000 IU/mL—medical guidelines recommend antiviral therapy during their third trimester of pregnancy to reduce their risk of infecting their newborns. Babies born to HBV-infected women can become infected even if they are immunized at birth and treated with HBIG (hepatitis B antibodies) if their mothers have high viral loads.

It is important to remember that a viral load test provides you with important information, but it must be considered in relation to your other HBV and liver function tests results to determine if treatment is needed at all, or if you are responding favorably to current treatment. Although an undetectable or low viral load is good news, it does not necessarily guarantee that you have not, or will not experience liver damage. Hepatitis B is a tricky virus. Talk to your liver specialist about all of your test results.

Why Won’t Doctors Treat Young Adults with High Viral Load and No Signs of Liver Damage?

Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

If antiviral medications almost always lower viral loads, why don’t doctors treat young adults with high viral loads with this daily pill? After all, don’t high viral loads lead to liver damage and even liver cancer?

This is one of the most common questions posed to the Hepatitis B Foundation, and at first glance the decision not to treat a high viral load with antivirals seems counter-intuitive or plain wrong. If antivirals reduce the number of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in the body, won’t that give the immune system an opportunity to clear out the remaining residual HBV?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It’s complicated, as are many aspect of hepatitis B.

It’s common for young adults (up to age 30) who live with hepatitis B to be in the “immune tolerant” stage of infection with extremely high viral load (HBV DNA) but with no signs of liver damage.

When we’re born to mothers infected with hepatitis B, unless we’re immunized at birth 90 percent of us become infected from exposure to infectious blood and body fluids during delivery. And when infants are infected, their immature immune systems don’t recognize the virus. The young immune system misses the “red flag” signature on this hepatitis B virus and “tolerates” the infection instead of attacking it.

In contrast, when we’re infected as healthy adults, our immune systems immediately detect and identify hepatitis B as a viral invader and aggressively attacks the virus and any infected liver cells. In adults, it generally can take up to six months for the immune system to eradicate the virus. When we’re infected as children, it can take up to three or even four decades for our immune systems to notice the virus and shift into “immune active” battle mode.

Until the immune systems notice the virus and begins to fight the infection, children and young adults remain in the “immune tolerant” stage, with sky high viral loads that can reach 1 billion international units per milliliter (IU/mL). Unencumbered by an immune system that’s on the offense, the virus hijacks liver cells to replicate and churn out more virus.

Because the immune system isn’t attacking and damaging the infected liver cells, liver tests (ALT or SGPT) results show no signs of damage and usually remain in the normal range (30 or less for men and 19 or less for women). And until our immune systems wake up and launches its attack, doctors say there is no reason to try to lower the viral load in these young adults because even when antivirals lower viral load, the immune system stays dormant and doesn’t go on the offensive.

Experts recently re-examined whether this hands-off approach was still valid and reviewed more than a dozen studies that examined whether antiviral treatment benefited immune-tolerant adults.

At the November 2015 AASLD Liver Conference, researchers reported, “There are no studies demonstrating that antiviral therapy is beneficial in reducing rates of liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver-related death in persons with immune-tolerant chronic hepatitis B.”

Following their instruction to “first do no harm,” the experts recommended, “Given the lack of evidence of benefit to those with (high viral load and normal ALT levels), the potential harms of finite (or longer) antiviral therapy, including cost, antiviral drug side effects, and development of resistance, outweigh benefits.”

Let’s explore their rationale:

  • Antivirals work for only as long as you take them. Once started because of liver damage, patients can be on them for many years, and when patients go off antivirals, they often experience a “flare” with a sudden increase in viral load and ALT levels that can be dangerous.
  • The leading antivirals, including tenofovir (Viread) and entecavir (Baraclude), are not cheap, especially tenofovir which is not yet available in a generic formula.
  • And antivirals have side effects, which can include bone loss, impact on kidney function, and a risk of developing drug resistance.

So, if treatment will not yield good results, why put young adults through the cost and medical risk? In fact, experts don’t even treat immune-tolerant patients who have family members with hepatitis B-related liver cancer.

The experts did make clear that all immune-tolerant patients should have their ALT levels and viral load checked at least every six months so doctors could monitor their infection.

Still, this is challenging to hear when we are living with hepatitis B or just recently diagnosed with a chronic infection. We want to do something to fight the infection. But without an active immune system as a strategic partner in our fight against hepatitis B, we must be patient and let go of a quick-fix hope, as much as we all want a magic pill to cure our infection.

So in the interim, until our immune systems wake up and starting fighting the virus in our bodies, we do what we can to protect our health, including eating healthy foods, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, and getting monitored every six months. It may not feel like it’s enough, but for now it’s all we can do.