May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, when we focus on raising awareness of viral hepatitis while encouraging testing and vaccination. Hepatitis Awareness Month activities help to improve everyone’s understanding of viral hepatitis transmission and risk factors and to decrease social stigma against viral hepatitis.
While we have the tools and a clear roadmap to stop the spread of viral hepatitis, we still need to focus on raising awareness of the disease, how people get it, how we can prevent it, and how we can reduce social stigma. Our success depends on active participation in a strategic and coordinated response to use the tools we have to prevent, and eventually eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the United States.
Both hepatitis A and hepatitis B are preventable with safe and effective vaccines, and hepatitis C is curable with prescribed treatment. Currently, there is an estimated 862,000 and 2.4 million people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C in the United States, respectively. Yet approximately two-thirds of persons living with hepatitis B and almost half of persons living with hepatitis C, do not know they have the virus. To increase the number of people that are aware of their status, the CDC now recommends hepatitis B screening and testing for all adults aged 18 years and older at least once in their lifetime. CDC continues to recommend hepatitis C screening for all adults aged 18 years and older at least once in their lifetime.
The hepatitis B vaccine is still the best tool we have at preventing the short and long-term effects of hepatitis B virus, including cirrhosis, liver cancer and early death. Currently, only an estimated 30% of adults in the United States are vaccinated against hepatitis B. To increase hepatitis B vaccination coverage, the CDC now recommends hepatitis B vaccination for all adults ages 19-59 as well as adults aged 60 years and older with or without known risks factors for hepatitis B.
As the Assistant Secretary for Health, ensuring equitable approaches to increasing access to viral hepatitis testing, vaccination, and treatment, particularly for populations at higher risk of infection, is a priority for me. Eliminating barriers that increases access to get more people screened for hepatitis B and hepatitis C, as well as vaccinated for hepatitis B.
This May, during Hepatitis Awareness Month, I encourage you, to share information and implement the newly updated screening, testing, and vaccination recommendations for hepatitis B and hepatitis C to increase access to life-saving treatments.
Here is how you can get involved:
- Throughout the month of May, help spread the word about viral hepatitis to your networks, using CDC’s Hepatitis Awareness Month social media toolkit.
- May 19th is Hepatitis Testing Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of hepatitis B and hepatitis C, while encouraging everyone to learn their status. I urge healthcare providers to incorporate screening and vaccination for hepatitis B and screening for hepatitis C into all clinical settings, including harm reduction, behavioral health, pharmacies, and HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) treatment facilities.
- May 30th, at 1:00 pm-2:30 pm EST, join me and experts across the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for a webinar to learn more about the Federal Implementation of Updated Viral Hepatitis Screening and Vaccination Recommendations. This webinar will bring together federal representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Indian Health Service (IHS), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Read the Viral Hepatitis National Strategic Plan for the U.S.: A Roadmap to Elimination 2021-2025 to learn about the vision we set forward to reverse the rates of viral hepatitis, prevent new infections, improve care and treatment and ultimately eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the United States. You can also read the Viral Hepatitis Federal Implementation Plan to learn about the policies, research, and activities that my federal colleagues intend to put into practice to meet the goals of the national plan.
We all must work together to put these new recommendations into action to help prevent new viral hepatitis infections, which combined with increased testing, vaccination, and treatment, will move us closer towards eliminating viral hepatitis in the United States.