On May 19th, National Hepatitis Testing Day, we join together to encourage testing for hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Over four million Americans are living with HBV or HCV and about two million do not know they are infected. The numbers of new infections and deaths are getting higher each year. In 2014, 21,502 people died of HBV and HCV related causes. Today marks a nationwide effort to identify who is at risk for HBV or HCV, and get them tested and linked to care. Once people are diagnosed, there are effective treatments for HBV and treatments for HCV that cure more than 9 out of 10 people who take them. By getting people tested and linked to care and treatment, we can prevent serious disease, disability, and death.
Many people remain unaware of their infection because they do not even know they are at risk. While some of the risk factors for HBV and/or HCV infection are common knowledge, other risk factors are less widely known. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the risk factors for HBV and HCV and who should be tested. Here are some common myths and facts about testing for HBV and HCV.
Myth: Viral hepatitis testing is painful and time-consuming.
FALSE. Viral hepatitis testing generally requires a simple blood draw and can be done quickly at a variety of medical facilities (hospitals, clinics) or even at a community testing event. There is also a rapid test for HCV that only requires a finger stick and a couple drops of blood. Ask your doctor for a test or use the resource links below to take action on Hepatitis Testing Day.
Myth: My parents were born outside of the United States, but I was born here, so I don’t need to be tested for hepatitis B.
FALSE. Individuals who have at least one parent born in a country with high and intermediate rates of HBV infection - PDF (including most Asian and African countries) should be tested for HBV. Their parent(s) should also be tested for HBV infection.
Fact: Someone in my house has been diagnosed with hepatitis B, so I should get tested.
TRUE. Household members of people with HBV infection should be tested and if they are susceptible, they should be vaccinated to prevent transmission. HBV vaccine is safe and effective. HBV can be transmitted in a variety of ways. It’s usually spread through exposure to blood or through sexual contact but it can also be spread by sharing personal care items that have very small amounts of infected blood such as toothbrushes or razors.
Myth: Baby boomers only need to be tested for hepatitis C if they used drugs of had a lot of sex partners.
FALSE. Baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965) account for about 75% of all people living with chronic HCV and many do not have any risk factors. One study showed that many baby boomers were probably exposed to HCV through medical procedures due to the reuse of glass and metal syringes in the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as through contaminated blood before a test became available in 1991. Baby boomers may have other risk factors such as ever having injected drugs or having been on dialysis. The full list of who should get tested for HCV is below under take action on Hepatitis Testing Day.
Fact: Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be transmitted from mother to baby.
TRUE. Women infected with HBV or HCV can pass the infection to their infants. Guidelines recommend that all pregnant women be screened for HBV during each pregnancy, and infected mothers should be referred to care to help ensure that their infants. Comprehensive perinatal HBV prevention strategies can avoid protect most babies from becoming infected and avoid serious liver-related consequences, including premature death. Newer data shows that HCV among pregnant women is an increasing threat to the health of the mother and the infant. Pregnant women who are at risk (e.g., history of injection drug use, long-term kidney dialysis, receipt of blood products prior to 1991) should be screened for HCV during pregnancy and referred for HCV treatment after pregnancy.
Myth: I was born in 1985 so I’m not at risk for hepatitis C.
FALSE. Everyone who has a risk factor for hepatitis C should be tested, regardless of what year you were born. Most new infections are occurring in young adults in suburban and rural areas with a history of injection drug use. Between 2010 and 2015, new HCV infections increased sharply – by almost 300%. These data highlight the need for HCV testing beyond just the baby boomer age population and getting more people connected to care and curative treatment.
Take Action on Hepatitis Testing Day
Finding out if you are at risk for HBV or HCV is as simple as taking a five-minute online risk assessment. After answering some basic questions, it will let you know if HBV or HCV testing is recommended for you. Then you can talk to your health care provider about getting tested or use the link below to find a testing site. For more a complete list of who should be tested, see CDC testing recommendations for HBV - PDF (PDF, 133 KB) and HCV.
Today, and throughout the month of May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies and nonfederal partners are sharing resources to raise awareness about viral hepatitis and how to connect individuals to testing and care services. For more information, visit the following websites:
- Take the CDC’s 5-minute online hepatitis risk assessment.
- Find a testing site near you.
- Download and share CDC Resources for Hepatitis Awareness Month and Hepatitis Testing Day.
- View the CDC’s Know More Hepatitis campaign to promote HCV testing among baby boomers.
- View the CDC’s Know Hepatitis B campaign promoting HBV testing among Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders.
- Learn more about the HHS National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, 2017 – 2020 and join in the fight against viral hepatitis in the United States.
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