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Federal Task Force Recommendation for Hepatitis B Screening Fails to Close Gaps in Diagnosis Rates

Doylestown, Dec. 16, 2020 – The Hepatitis B Foundation today released the following statement regarding the recent publication of a new statement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) that reinforced its 2014 recommendation to screen only adolescents and adults at increased risk for hepatitis B (HBV) infection with a B grade.

Chari Cohen, DrPH, MPH, senior vice president of the Hepatitis B Foundation and co-chair of Hep B United, a national coalition focused on addressing hepatitis B and liver cancer, said: “We are very disappointed the Task Force came to its decision to continue a risk-based screening recommendation for hepatitis B infection. Screening persons based on risk groups for HBV infection in the U.S. has been ineffective and highly stigmatizing. We estimate over 2 million Americans are living with HBV infection, yet a staggering number – about 65 to 75% – remain undiagnosed.”

“Despite having these recommendations in place for nearly a decade, we have seen very limited progress in identifying those with HBV infection and a rise in the incidence of liver cancer rates. Additionally, we have failed to make hepatitis B screening a routine practice within our health care systems, so the burden of implementation has fallen on under-resourced community-based organizations.”

“Given the recent rise in acute HBV infections tied to injection drug use and the opioid crisis, we have clearly also missed opportunities to identify and protect those susceptible to infection. It is time to transition to universal testing of all adults for HBV infection, and adequate screening means not only with the hepatitis B surface antigen test as recommended by USPSTF, but with the complete panel of hepatitis B tests ¬– surface antigen, surface antibody and core antibody. Screening with hepatitis B surface antigen alone represents a missed opportunity to identify individuals who need to be vaccinated, as well as those who are at risk of reactivation of their HBV infection.”

“We cannot eliminate hepatitis B in the U.S. with risk-based screening guidelines. A universal adult hepatitis B screening strategy will help identify infected individuals and link them with care to reduce deaths due to hepatitis B, vaccinate and provide lifelong protection for susceptible individuals, decrease stigma and discrimination associated with an infectious disease and eliminate hepatitis B in future generations.”

About the Hepatitis B Foundation: The nation’s leading nonprofit organization solely dedicated to finding a cure for hepatitis B and improving the quality of life for those affected worldwide through research, education and patient advocacy, the Hepatitis B Foundation is based in Doylestown, Pa., with an office in Washington, D.C. To learn more, go to www.hepb.org, read our blog at hepb.org/blog, follow us on Twitter @HepBFoundation, find us on Facebook at facebook.com/hepbfoundation or call 215-489-4900. To donate, contact Jean Holmes at 215-489-4900 or jean.holmes@hepb.org.

About Hep B United: Hep B United is a national coalition established by the Hepatitis B Foundation and the Association of Asian and Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) to address the public health challenge of hepatitis B by increasing awareness, screening, vaccination and linkage to care for all Americans, with a particular focus on Asian-American and Pacific Islander populations that are disproportionately impacted. To learn more, visit www.hepbunited.org.