Why Hepatitis B may be the silent epidemic sweeping the nation - Primary Health

Why Hepatitis B may be the silent epidemic sweeping the nation

  • July 19, 2023

  • Adi Chandrasekhar, MD, MPH, FACP

  • 3 minutes

Widespread Hepatitis B testing and vaccination can help curb the estimated 14,000 new cases each year.

Some infections pose a major public health problem but seldom receive the attention they deserve. Hepatitis B is one such infection that infects many people in the United States, often producing grave long-term effects. 

To start with the basics, Hepatitis B is a viral hepatitis, which means it is caused by a virus and results in inflammation of the liver. The Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through infected body fluids like blood and semen. Even microscopic amounts of these fluids can transmit Hepatitis B to a susceptible person. An infected parent can also transmit Hepatitis B to a child during pregnancy. In fact, Hepatitis B transmits far more easily than HIV or Hepatitis C viruses, which often capture much more media attention. 

People infected with Hepatitis B may develop few to no symptoms in the early stages of infection. This means that many patients don’t know they’re infected until later stages of the disease. When it progresses to chronic infection, it leads to liver cirrhosis and increases risk of death. In fact, Hepatitis B is also the leading cause of liver cancer.

As many as 25 percent of people infected in childhood and 15 percent of those infected after childhood die prematurely from cirrhosis or liver cancer. 

CDC updates Hepatitis B screening guidelines

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 2,157 cases of acute (sudden) Hepatitis B. However, the CDC estimates that the true number of new infections that year may be closer to 14,000 cases. That is a staggering gap, with nearly seven undiagnosed new cases for every diagnosed case. Similarly, the CDC estimates that about 580,000 to 1.17 million people live with chronic Hepatitis B in the United States; as many as two-thirds of those may be unaware of their diagnosis. 

In 2023, the CDC updated its screening guidelines for Hepatitis B to recommend more widespread testing. Anyone aged 18 or older should be screened at least once in their lifetime, as should all pregnant people and infants born to pregnant people with Hepatitis B. Underscoring the need for more testing, the guidelines recommend that any patient who requests testing should receive it. Screening is fairly simple, using a blood sample that looks for a combination of antibodies that help detect both acute and chronic infections.

Finally, a longstanding effective vaccine against Hepatitis B exists. The vaccine is offered as a part of the childhood vaccination schedule and also is available to anyone at any age who requests it. It is particularly important for healthcare workers who may risk exposure to infected fluids. 

Primary.Health provides affordable, reliable testing and vaccination programs that fit every organization and population. Contact us to learn how we can tailor a solution to your needs, with all the monitoring and reporting data you require to keep your people healthy. 

Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.

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