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CDC recommends hepatitis B screening for all adults

HONOLULU — A Hawai‘i coalition working on hepatitis elimination throughout the state is hoping that new federal guidance for hepatitis B screening will encourage more people to get screened.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a report recommending that all adults 18 and over be screened for hepatitis B, a potentially life-threatening liver condition. It also expanded risk-based testing recommendations to include people with a history of incarceration, hepatitis C infection, STIs, and/or multiple sex partners.

Additionally, anyone who requests testing “should receive it, regardless of disclosure risk.”

The guidance comes just a couple of weeks after the Hawai‘i Department of Health released its Hepatitis B Mortality and Liver Cancer report, which found that the Hepatitis B death rate throughout the state (1.17 per 100,000 residents in 2019) was almost three times the national rate (0.42 per 100,000).

According to the report, which reviewed data from 2000 to 2020, Hepatitis B death rates were higher among Asian and Pacific Islander residents in Hawai‘i. Rates for those residents were 1.2 to 1.4 times the rate of the state average.

In a March 10 statement, Thaddeus Pham, the viral hepatitis prevention coordinator with the Hawai‘i State Department of Health and co-founder of Hep Free Hawai‘i, was hopeful that the CDC’s new recommendations would help their efforts to eliminate hepatitis B in Hawai‘i, “especially given the disparities in our local Asian and Pacific Islander communities.”

Hep Free Hawai‘i says that screening, treatment, and vaccines are essential for reducing Hawai‘i’s rates, and they are looking forward to collaborating with other partners throughout the state to get more people screened for the condition.

“Universal screening is a critical way to reach those who are living with hepatitis B virus, but are unaware of their status,” said Heather Lusk, Hep Free Hawaii’s co-director and executive director of Hawai‘i Health &Harm Reduction Center in a statement.

Lusk noted there’s no cure for the virus, but the risk of serious illness and death can be prevented through antiviral treatment, monitoring, and liver cancer surveillance. There’s also a highly effective vaccine available.

“Those who test non-reactive for hepatitis B virus can subsequently receive a vaccine to prevent infection,” she said.

According to the CDC’s report, an estimated 580,000 to 2.4 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis B, and two-thirds might be unaware of their infection.

The condition is spread through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids, which can occur through sexual activity, mother to child during childbirth, and injection drug use.

Hep Free Hawaii’s goal is to eradicate hepatitis A, B, and C in the state over the course of the next seven years, through “Hep Free 2030,” an elimination plan announced in July 2019.


Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached at 808-652-0638 or
Source: The Garden Island

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