On Monday, May 26th, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) published its final recommendation statement on screening for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in individuals at high risk. This recommendation includes adults and adolescents who are not pregnant and who have not been vaccinated, as well as other individuals at high risk for infection.
After reviewing the evidence, the Task Force recommends screening people who have the following risk factors for HBV infection:
- People born in countries and regions with a high prevalence of HBV infection, such as Africa, Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, China, Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the northern countries in South America;
- U.S.-born persons not vaccinated as infants whose parents were born in countries or regions with a high prevalence of HBV infection;
- HIV-positive people, injection drug users, men who have sex with men, and those living with or having sex with someone with HBV infection; or
- Patients with weakened immune systems or undergoing treatment for kidney failure (hemodialysis).
There are still as many as 2.2 million people in the United States chronically infected with hepatitis B and 15 to 25 percent of those individuals die from liver disease including liver cancer. “Screening can identify people who have chronic HBV infection, and the good news is that treatment can help prevent liver cancer in these people,” says Task Force member Dr. Douglas K. Owens of Stanford University.
The Task Force’s final recommendation statement has been published online in Annals of Internal Medicine, as well as on the Task Force Web site. A fact sheet explains the recommendation statement in plain language.
“The Task Force’s new Grade B recommendation in favor of HBV screening for persons at high risk for infection – people who are more likely to get infected or to pass on the infection – provides us with another important tool to use as we pursue the goals of the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis,” observed Ms. Corinna Dan, Viral Hepatitis Policy Advisor at the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy. “In the weeks and months ahead, federal and nonfederal stakeholders alike will incorporate this recommendation into efforts detailed in the Action Plan to improve viral hepatitis testing, care and treatment to prevent liver disease and cancer.”