The U.S. Centers for Control and Prevention have issued a new recommendation urging all adults to receive screening for hepatitis B at least once in their lifetime.
The agency describes hepatitis B (HBV) as a liver infection caused by the HBV virus. It can progress to liver cancer and other serious illnesses. CDC officials said as many as 2.4 million people live with HBV, and most might not know they have it. A severe infection could lead to chronic HBV, which could increase a person’s risk of getting cancer or cirrhosis.
Further, the CDC said those diagnosed with chronic or long-term HBV are up to 85% more likely to succumb to an early death.
“Chronic HBV infection can lead to substantial morbidity and mortality but is detectable before the development of severe liver disease using reliable and inexpensive screening tests,” CDC officials stated.
Even though the number of people with HBV has decreased significantly in the last 30 years, the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it is still a problem for African Americans. That office reported that, in 2020, non-Hispanic blacks would be 1.4 times more likely to die from viral hepatitis than non-His panic whites. Also, non-Hispanic blacks were almost twice as likely to die from hepatitis C as white individuals. Further, while having comparable case rates for HBV in 2020, non-Hispanic blacks were 2.5 times more likely to die from HBV than non-Hispanic whites.
Medical officials noted that HBV spreads through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids, which can occur through sex, injecting drugs, or during pregnancy or delivery. The CDC previously issued a recommendation in 2008, when it urged testing for high-risk individuals.
In its most recent recommendation, the agency said that adults over 18 must be tested at least once.
The agency declared that pregnant individuals should also undergo screening during each pregnancy, regardless of whether they’ve received a vaccine or have been previously tested. Additionally, incarcerated individuals, those with multiple sex partners, or people with a history of hepatitis C should test periodically, the CDC said.
The agency warned that symptoms of acute HBV could include fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, dark urine, and jaundice. Symptoms could take several months or longer to present and last for months.
The CDC’s latest report further notes the following: It’s estimated more than half of people who have the hepatitis B virus (HBV) don’t know they’re infected. Without treatment and monitoring, HBV infection can lead to deadly health outcomes, including liver damage and liver cancer.
The report updates and expands previous guidelines for HBV screening and testing by recommending screening for all U.S. adults and expanding continual periodic risk-based testing to include more groups, activities, exposures, and conditions. Providers should implement the new CDC hepatitis B screening and testing recommendations to ensure all adults are screened for HBV infection with the triple-panel at least once in their lifetimes and that people who are not vaccinated for hepatitis B – but are at increased risk of HBV infection – receive periodic testing.
“Although a curative treatment is not yet available, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic HBV infections reduce the risk for cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death,” CDC officials noted in the report.
“Along with vaccination strategies, universal screening of adults and appropriate testing of persons at increased risk for HBV infection will improve health outcomes, reduce the prevalence of HBV infection in the United States, and advance viral hepatitis elimination goals.”