However, since most people with chronic viral hepatitis have no obvious symptoms after they are infected, many remain unaware of their status until they develop liver cancer or other serious liver disease many years later. The IOM noted that about two-thirds of the Americans who are chronically infected with hepatitis B and three-quarters of those chronically infected with hepatitis C don’t know they are infected.
The health consequences of failing to prevent, diagnose, and treat chronic hepatitis are enormous: Each year, in the U.S. alone, about 15,000 people die from liver cancer and other liver disease resulting from chronic hepatitis B or C.
The current approach for preventing and controlling chronic hepatitis B and C is not working, according to the IOM report, in part because these diseases are not widely recognized as serious public health problems. Healthcare providers, social-service providers, at-risk populations, and policy-makers alike generally lack knowledge and awareness of chronic hepatitis B and C and their health consequences. As a result, programs for prevention, surveillance, and control of chronic hepatitis have suffered from inadequate resources.
The IOM is calling for an intensified response in four critical areas to combat viral hepatitis. This includes:
Evaluating and improving the existing surveillance systems for acute and chronic hepatitis B and C
Raising knowledge and awareness of viral hepatitis among providers, at-risk populations, and the general public
Increasing immunization of children and at-risk groups for hepatitis B and continuing studies to develop a hepatitis C vaccine
Expanding screening and care services for persons living with viral hepatitis
Comprehensive viral hepatitis services should have the following five core components, according to the IOM: 1) outreach and awareness, 2) prevention of new infections, 3) identification of infected people, 4) social and peer support, and 5) medical management of people who are chronically infected.
To address the lack of knowledge and awareness about chronic viral hepatitis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have funded the National Training Center for Integrated Hepatitis HIV/STD Prevention Services at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The center recently launched a new website, www.knowhepatitis.org, which is providing training resources for healthcare and social-service providers. So far, they have made two 40-minute web seminars available on demand at their website: “ABCs of Hepatitis - Information for the Front Line Worker (Hepatitis 101)” and “IOM Report: A National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis B and C.”
The AIDS Action Committee also has substantial resources on viral hepatitis available through its Hepatitis Hotline (888-443-4372) and HIV Health Library. For fact sheets, reports, and recent news about viral hepatitis, visit the Library’s Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C pages.