Hepatitis B Foundation raises alarm about findings from new federal viral hepatitis surveillance report
A new CDC report shows major COVID-related disruptions in hepatitis B testing and significant health equity concerns about the virus’ impact on the Asian American/Pacific Islander community.
Doylestown, Pa., Sept. 15, 2022 – The Hepatitis B Foundation is alarmed by the findings in the newly released viral hepatitis surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As the nation’s leading hepatitis B advocacy and research organization, the Hepatitis B Foundation calls for increased investments to improve hepatitis B screening rates and implement new universal vaccination recommendations.
The CDC report shows an estimated 14,000 new acute hepatitis B cases in 2020, a dramatic 32 percent decrease from 2019. The report points to COVID-related disruptions as a driver for such a significant decrease after a decade of stable rates. This is alarming because it highlights a sharp decline in hepatitis B testing due to COVID-19. Pandemic-related disruptions during 2020 resulted in fewer individuals seeking routine healthcare, fewer opportunities for community organizations to engage in testing programs and health department staff being shifted from hepatitis reporting duties to COVID-19 response. A 2020 Hepatitis B Foundation-involved survey found viral hepatitis testing was significantly impacted among clinical providers, health departments, and community-based organizations during the pandemic. Many of these disruptions continue today.
“This drop in acute hepatitis B cases in 2020 is unfortunately not a sign of progress toward reducing new cases, but instead is an alarm bell to find and help those individuals not being tested,” said Hepatitis B Foundation President Chari A. Cohen, DrPH, MPH. “We have work to do to reverse this trend, by improving access to testing and ensuring implementation of the new universal adult hepatitis B vaccination recommendations. This would help find those individuals and link them to care or liver cancer-preventing vaccination.”
The report found the highest number of new acute cases of hepatitis B were among non-Hispanic White and Black adults, and persons aged 30-59. Injection drug use-related cases remain elevated.
The CDC reported a total of 11,600 newly identified cases of chronic hepatitis B in 2020, with alarming rates among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of more than 12 times those of non-Hispanic White adults. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders also bore a disproportionate burden of hepatitis B-related deaths in 2020 with a rate 9 times higher than that of non-Hispanic White adults. Also of note in the report, only around 30% of adults born after 1991 – the year hepatitis B was recommended as a routine childhood vaccine in the U.S. – are protected from the virus, adding to the urgency of implementing new vaccine recommendations.
As the nation’s leading hepatitis B advocacy and research organization, the Hepatitis B Foundation calls for increased investments to improve hepatitis B screening rates and implement new universal vaccination recommendations.
“We won’t be able to decrease hepatitis B-related deaths and reach our goal of eliminating the disease unless we make major investments in surveillance for chronic cases,” noted Frank Hood, associate director of policy and partnerships at the Hepatitis B Foundation. “We’re missing opportunities all along the care continuum by not vaccinating, testing, or ensuring people can reach care and treatment.”