May is Hepatitis Awareness Month— a time to raise awareness that viral hepatitis continues to be a major public health threat in the United States. Hepatitis Awareness Month provides an opportunity to recognize people affected by viral hepatitis, the tireless work of our public health partners, and the progress we have made in both preventing new infections and improving the lives of those with viral hepatitis. Observances such as National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day (May 15) and National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19) provide further opportunities to promote interventions that prevent viral hepatitis and encourage testing to identify the millions of Americans with these often-undiagnosed infections
This year we have already announced several important steps toward the elimination of viral hepatitis. On April 1, CDC published updated adult hepatitis B vaccination recommendations in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. This update signifies a move away from risk-based recommendations—an action that will help reduce health disparities by eliminating the need for patients to disclose potentially stigmatizing risk factors and provide a simplified vaccination decision-making process for providers.
Approximately 880,000 Americans have hepatitis B, and because there are often few symptoms, an estimated 66% of those individuals are unaware of their infection. In an effort to increase identification of those who need care, CDC is also updating its hepatitis B screening recommendations from risk-based to universal to complement the universal hepatitis B vaccination approach and the existing hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening guidelines. The proposed hepatitis B screening guidelines are currently available for comment in the Federal Register. The comment period closes June 3. We anticipate formal publication of this update in late 2022.
In the United States, people who inject drugs comprise a substantial proportion of people acquiring viral hepatitis infection, and we cannot meet our elimination goals without effectively reaching and providing services to people who inject drugs (PWID). On March 1, 2022, CDC released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for Strengthening Syringe Services Programs (CDC-RFA-PS22-2208) as part of an effort to support the comprehensive health needs of PWID. This program aims to increase access to harm reduction services for people who currently inject or have a history of injecting drugs, and to reduce incidence of infectious diseases and other complications of injection drug use. This funding opportunity is a crucial step for CDC to address the needs of populations with disproportionate disease burden and stop the spread of viral hepatitis. We expect funding to be awarded in September 2022.
With the momentum we have built this year, we are ready for the work ahead. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 President’s Budget Request of $54,500,000 for Viral Hepatitis is $13,500,000 above the FY2022 budget. With this increased investment, CDC would make progress towards stopping the spread of hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C and increase the number of persons vaccinated, tested, and linked to lifesaving treatment. CDC would support activities to increase awareness and uptake of national testing and vaccination recommendations, and maintain its commitment to building state, territorial, tribal, and local capacity, as well as its role in facilitating partnerships between federal, state, and local governmental payer and healthcare provider organizations. We will also continue to prioritize prevention programs in high-burden jurisdictions and high-impact settings to reach priority populations that lack equitable access to health care services.
We rely on health departments, hospitals, and organizations to help us prevent, test, link to care and treatment, monitor, and respond to viral hepatitis in the United States. Together, we have made tremendous progress, but more must be done to turn the tide on viral hepatitis epidemics in the United States. We are committed to our goals during this Hepatitis Awareness Month and are building the synergy we need. The next few years will be critical, and we ask each of you for your dedication to preventing viral hepatitis infections and your help to improve the lives of millions of Americans with viral hepatitis.