Sunday, July 28th is World Hepatitis Day (WHD). With more than 3 million people living with viral hepatitis in the United States, WHD offers a critical opportunity to raise awareness of this deadly, but treatable disease and encourage everyone to get tested. In particular, viral hepatitis impact minorities – especially those living with HIV – at an alarming rate.
African Americans are twice as likely to be infected with HCV compared to the general U.S. population. Latinos over 40 are 30 percent more likely to be newly infected with HBV than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, due to lower vaccination rates. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APIs) represent half of the estimated 1.4 million HBV-infected persons in the U.S., despite the fact that they only make up 5 percent of the overall population.
What’s more, approximately one-third of people living with HIV are co-infected with either HBV or HCV, which can cause long-term illness and death. Viral hepatitis progresses faster and causes more liver-related health problems among PLWH than among those who do not have HIV. Although drug therapy has extended the life expectancy of PLWH, liver disease—much of which is related to HCV and HBV—has become the leading cause of non-AIDS-related deaths among PLWH.
Of those living with viral hepatitis in the United States, approximately three-quarters are “baby boomers” — those born between 1945 and 1965. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Prevention Services Task Force have both updated their testing recommendations, suggesting that all baby boomers living in the U.S. should be screened at least once for the disease.
The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) is pleased by these new recommendations, and hopes that physicians and those who meet this testing criterion will take them to heart. With new and accurate rapid oral testing now available, screening is easier than ever. Viral Hepatitis is a serious condition and one that rarely shows symptoms. On this World Hepatitis Day, NMAC stands with the Viral Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS communities, and urges action to address these twin epidemics.