Efforts Ramp Up Nationally to End America’s Hepatitis Epidemic

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New Treatments and updated national action plan spur increased community screenings and outreach activity during National Hepatitis Awareness Month

SAN FRANCISCO/LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK/CHICAGO/SEATTLE – May 15, 2014 – In the largest multi-faceted campaign of its kind, local and national organizers in five American cities hardest hit by the viral hepatitis epidemic will hold screening events in coordination with a televised advertising campaign during the month of May potentially reaching up to 21 million Americans.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that up to 5.3 million Americans are infected with viral hepatitis and at risk for liver cancer or liver cirrhosis. Most do not even know that they are infected. Hepatitis infection is the leading cause of liver cancer, and liver cancer is the 2nd deadliest cancer in the United States. In 2007, deaths due to viral hepatitis outpaced deaths due to HIV.

Promising new treatments for hepatitis C and an updated National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan released by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services last month, are helping to spur increased activities to raise awareness about this deadly disease and to get people tested to find out their status and get treatment if necessary to prevent liver damage.

Newly FDA approved treatments for hepatitis C have shown a greater than 90 percent cure rate and many more treatments will be on the market in the next year. Last June, federal recommendations were released urging all persons born between 1945 through 1965 to be tested for hepatitis C, along with those who have been at risk. New guidelines will soon be released that recommend hepatitis  B testing for all Asian/Pacific Islanders and other at-risk groups. Hepatitis B infection can be prevented with a vaccine and treatments are available to prevent the disease from developing into liver cancer.

Hepatitis testing campaigns will be conducted in all five cities, and community rallies will be organized for the following dates:

For a full listing of hepatitis testing activities occurring in cities throughout the nation, please visit  http://www.cdcnpin.org/HTD/HTD.aspx.

The televised public service announcements will run from May 17 to May 19, in the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle markets, with additional website advertising from May 13 to May 19. The PSAs feature a call for hepatitis testing as a way to prevent liver cancer and include a unique URL for each city that links to local hepatitis resources and screening events. The PSAs were produced as part of a partnership between AsianWeek Foundation, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable and CBS HealthWatch.

The month of May has been designated National Hepatitis Awareness Month and May 19 has been designated National Hepatitis Testing Day, with May 15 designated as National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day.

“This is an amazing collaboration to end the hepatitis epidemic in America: from the commitment of the federal government with an updated national action plan, to the massive reach of CBS HealthWatch in spreading the message, to the work on the ground being done by local communities,” commented Ted Fang, Executive Director of AsianWeek Foundation and co-founder of the San Francisco Hep B Free campaign.

“This is a vital multi-faceted approach for educating the public about the need for viral hepatitis testing,” said Ryan Clary, Executive Director of National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable. “We are proud to be part of this coalition and building private/public partnerships to end viral hepatitis liver disease in America.”

“It’s a critical time to raise awareness and get tested for viral hepatitis because we now have the tools we need to help people who are infected and to save lives,” said Howard K. Koh, MD,MPH, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health. “And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more Americans will have access to preventive vaccines and treatments for this ‘silent epidemic.’”

The majority of liver cancer and advanced liver disease in the world are attributable to chronic infections of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis claims the lives of 12,000 to 18,000 American every year. Several minorities are disproportionately impacted by hepatitis. For example, hepatitis B is the greatest health disparity for both African immigrants and Asian Americans affecting approximately 10% of both groups. For Hispanics in America, liver cancer incidence rates are about twice as high in Hispanics as in non-Hispanic whites.

About Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common chronic blood-borne viral infection and the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the United States.  An estimated 3.2 million Americans are infected with HCV, and are at risk for developing cirrhosis and liver cancer.  Most persons who have HCV are not aware they are infected, and most with acute infection (60%-70%) show no symptoms.  Approximately three of four infected persons are BabyBoomers, born between 1945-1965.  HCV is responsible for more than 15,000 deaths in the United States every year.  In Los Angeles County, an estimated 180,000 persons are infected with HCV, and rates of HCV infection in the general population are estimated at 1.8%, 3.2% among persons born 1945-1965, and as high as 67.8% among injection drug users.

There is currently no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C infection.

HCV is transmitted by exposure to infected blood. Sexual transmission is possible, but not common.  It is most common among people who have injected drugs at some point during their lives. People who have received blood transfusions or organ transplants before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992 are also at risk. Others at risk include children born to HCV-positive women, sexual partners of persons with HCV and health care or emergency workers.  To prevent HCV infection, only sterile needles and equipment should be used, and personal items, such as toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers should not be shared.

Among HIV-affected persons, one in four are infected with HCV; liver disease is a leading cause of death for persons with HCV.  Co-infection rates with HCV are believed to be as high as 40%. An estimated 60-90% of people who contracted HIV from injection drug use also are infected with HCV.

About Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)

The Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), which attacks the liver, is 100 times more infectious than HIV/AIDS.  HBV can cause lifelong (chronic) infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer/failure, and death.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine screening and vaccination for HBV in all individuals from high prevalence regions, including Asia, Africa, and parts of South America.  Screening can prevent HBV transmission, suffering, and death.

Of the 800,000 to 1.4 million with chronic hepatitis B in United States, and 25% will die of HBV-related liver diseases if not treated.  Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers in AAPIs in California.  Among men, it is the most common cancer in Cambodians and Laotians, 2nd most common in Vietnamese, 4th in Chinese, Filipino and Native Hawaiians, and 5th in Koreans and Pacific Islanders.  Among women, liver cancer is the 5th most common cancer in Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese, and is also common in other AAPI women.   In the U.S., AAPIs have the highest rate of liver cancer of any racial/ethnic group.  Also, 80% of the HBV perinatal caseload in California, and within Los Angeles County, are AAPI women and household contacts.  HBV is one of  the greatest health disparities between AAPIs and the general US population (which has less than 1% prevalence of chronic HBV infection).


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