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Alan Franciscus
HCV Advocate

Friday, November 18, 2011

Viral Hepatitis Action Plan: Spotlight on Hepatitis B

In the United States, an estimated 800,000–1.4 million persons are infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease; immunization programs for infants and adolescents have resulted in substantial declines in the incidence of HBV infection over the past 20 years. Nonetheless, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2008 an estimated 38,000 persons were newly infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is spread in several ways: from mother to child at the time of birth, through exposure to infected blood, through injection-drug use, and through sexual contact. Rates of HBV infection are highest among adults, reflecting low hepatitis B vaccination coverage among persons with risks. In the United States, Asian Americans, and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs) make up less than 5% of the total population but account for more than half of all Americans living with chronic HBV infection.

Successful implementation of the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan could result in a substantial increase in the proportion of individuals aware of their hepatitis B infection from the current level of 33% thereby enabling them to seek treatment as well as reduce transmission of the virus to others. The Action Plan calls for health care providers to become better aware of opportunities for preventing, treating, and caring for viral hepatitis, including HBV infections. By strengthening the capacity of state and local health departments to collect a core set of viral hepatitis surveillance data we can better monitor trends in disease and the long-term impact of prevention, care and treatment. In addition, the Plan aims to eliminate the transmission of hepatitis B from mother to child by, among other actions, ensuring that hospitals and birthing centers administer a “birth dose” of hepatitis B vaccine to all newborns prior to discharge.

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