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Hepatitis Awareness Needed!

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. May 10, 2010

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Even though the scope of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C dwarfs that of HIV, our progress on viral hepatitis is lagging. Luckily, we can learn from the success of AIDS awareness campaigns on how to shift our focus onto education and funding for viral hepatitis.

These days, you would be hard-pressed to find an adult who doesn’t know about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. On the other hand, those familiar with chronic viral hepatitis – including its infectivity, prevalence and severity – are in the clear minority. Despite this inequity, an estimated five times more Americans are currently living with chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C than with HIV or AIDS.

  • An estimated 5.3 million people currently live with chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C in the U.S.
  • An estimated 1.1 million people currently live with HIV or AIDS in the U.S.

HIV Awareness

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) was first identified in the United States in 1981. Campaigns to educate the public about this disease’s course and how it is transmitted, began to flourish by the late 1980s. Upon recognizing that HIV attacks the immune system and can cause devastating and/or fatal illness, this disease received unparalleled attention in the media, political, education and healthcare arenas. The attention helped change the face of HIV, by:

  • Improving Funding – With so many aware of HIV’s dangers, research and development funding skyrocketed. This funding eventually led to the creation of medicines that enable people with HIV to live relatively long and healthy lives.
  • Many Living With HIV – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV or AIDS. As the yearly rate of new HIV infections continues to decline, those who have the virus are able to live longer.
  • Teaching Safe Sex – Known to be transmitted via sexual activity, the massive education campaign about HIV and safe sex has helped prevent many new viral transmissions.

HIV education has clearly resulted in fewer new infections and improved treatment options. Now, it is Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C’s turn.

Hepatitis Ignorance

A new Institute of Medicine (the health branch of the National Academy of Sciences) study has found that Hepatitis B and C are not widely recognized as serious public health problems. The consequence of this lack of recognition is that viral hepatitis prevention, control and surveillance programs have inadequate resources. By acknowledging that the current approach for preventing and controlling chronic Hepatitis B and C is not working, the investigators identified the following needs:

  • There is a need to increase the knowledge and awareness about chronic viral hepatitis among health care providers, social service providers and the public.
  • There is a need to improve surveillance for Hepatitis B and C.
  • There is a need to expand the integration of viral hepatitis services.

Both Hepatitis B and C rank among the world’s leading causes of preventable deaths. If not recognized and addressed early enough, viral hepatitis can lead to chronic liver disease or liver cancer. Although both viruses can be prevented and are easier to treat if caught early, many find out about their infection only after their hepatitis virus has progressed to advanced liver disease. The cause of 15,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and the most common reasons for a liver transplant, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are serious illnesses.

Evidenced by fewer new infections and dramatically improved treatments, AIDS awareness has made a dramatic impact on HIV. Even though it can be just as dangerous as HIV and infects more Americans, Hepatitis B or C is currently lacking that same level of awareness. As the Institute of Medicine suggests, it is time for our media, politicians, educators and healthcare providers to focus on viral hepatitis. By giving Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C the attention and funding they deserve, the burden of viral hepatitis will finally begin to lighten.

References:

http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/basic/, Basic Information: HIV, Retrieved February 10, 2010, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010.

http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Hepatitis-and-Liver-Cancer-A-National-Strategy-for-Prevention-and-Control-of-Hepatitis-B-and-C.aspx, Hepatitis and Liver Cancer: A National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis B and C, Retrieved February 10, 2010, Institute of Medicine, 2010.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1956864,00.html, Study: Threat of Hepatitis Underestimated, Laura Fitzpatrick Retrieved February 8, 2010, Time Inc., January 2010.

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