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Hepatitis Testing Day

Posted May 17 2013 12:24pm

By Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H. , Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and Director, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Ronald Valdiserri

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri

This week, we mark the second annual observance of Hepatitis Testing Day . Establishment of this national health awareness day on May 19 was called for in the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis as part of efforts to decrease health disparities by raising greater public and health care provider awareness, particularly among those populations most affected by hepatitis B and C infections. To achieve the goals of the Action Plan, we must address the fact that millions of Americans have chronic hepatitis, but most of them do not know they are infected.

Unfortunately, too many Americans at risk for or living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections remain uninformed about various facets of viral hepatitis, including the need for testing and care, associated adverse health effects, and the availability of treatment. By raising the profile of these infections and the importance of testing, we hope to generate greater awareness and encourage more people to learn about their risk and discuss hepatitis testing with their health care providers.

As we approach Hepatitis Testing Day, I encourage you to learn more using the following resources:

  •   Hepatitis Risk Assessment Hepatitis Risk Assessment: Find out if you should be tested by taking a 5-minute online Hepatitis Risk Assessment . This CDC tool allows individuals to determine their risk for hepatitis B and hepatitis C by answering questions privately, either in their home or a health care setting. They can then print tailored recommendations based on CDC’s testing and vaccination guidelines for viral hepatitis to discuss with their doctor. Try the Hepatitis Risk Assessment out for yourself! We hope you’ll help us spread the word about the tool by sending out an online health e-card to your friends, colleagues and/or patients and by downloading free Hepatitis Risk Assessment web buttons and badges to feature on your website.
  • Baby Boomers at Higher Risk:  According to the CDC, about 3 million adults in the U.S. are infected with the hepatitis C virus, and most of them are baby boomers. That’s why CDC recommends that all Americans born from 1945-1965 (the generation known as “baby boomers”) get tested for hepatitis C. People in this age group are five times more likely to have hepatitis C.   Watch this brief new video Exit Disclaimer to learn more about why hepatitis C testing is important.
  • Hepatitis B Awareness for Asian Americans: Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh encourages Asian Americans to get tested for chronic hepatitis B in a free, downloadable poster that you can post and share with others. CDC also recently updated its page on Asian Americans and Hepatitis B .

Baby Boomer Hepatitis Reccomendations Finally, in an important issue of CDC’s Vital Signs last week, we were reminded of the importance of confirmatory testing in the diagnosis of HCV infection. The issue discusses HCV testing among baby boomers and includes new findings from a CDC study indicating that only half of Americans with hepatitis C receive complete testing for the virus. A simple blood test, called a hepatitis C antibody test, can tell if you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, but cannot tell whether you are still infected. Only a different follow-up blood test – an RNA test – can determine if you are still infected. The data, based on reports sent to health departments in eight cities, show that only half of people with a positive hepatitis C antibody test had the follow-up test reported (diseases of public health significance, such as hepatitis C, are usually reported to local health departments when they are diagnosed to help identify disease trends and track outbreaks). The other half did not have a follow-up test reported (although some of them may have been tested but no report was done). Without the follow-up test, a person will not know if they still have hepatitis C and cannot get the medical care they need. As CDC notes, these findings suggest that HCV testing and reporting must improve if we are to meet the goal of the Action Plan to increase the proportion of persons who are aware of their infection.

We are pleased that many of the federal partners working to implement the Action Plan are joining in the observance of Hepatitis Testing Day, raising awareness of the observance among their staff, grantees, providers, and other stakeholders. We urge you to join us, too, by learning more and sharing what you learn with others.  Together we can make this second annual Hepatitis Testing Day a great success by raising awareness of viral hepatitis and encouraging complete testing for those who may be chronically infected.

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