May 19 is National Hepatitis Testing Day. In the United States, 2.4 million people are estimated to be living with hepatitis C (HCV), though the actual number may be as high as 4.7 million. It is estimated that 850,000 people are living with hepatitis B (HBV), but the actual number may be as high as 2.2 million. 67% of people living with HBV and 51% of people living with HCV do not know their status. If left undiagnosed and untreated, viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver disease, liver cancer, and death. Treatment is available for HBV that reduces the amount of virus in the person’s body to less harmful levels, and the treatment for HCV can reduce viral load to undetectable levels, essentially curing the illness.
The opioid epidemic in the United States and the associated injection drug use are driving increasing rates of HBV and HCV among people ages 20 to 55, with this group accounting for nearly 60% of new cases.
U.S. health authorities have set the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the United States by 2030, and President Joe Biden emphasized this commitment with his proclamation recognizing National Hepatitis Testing Day. Elimination will require significant scale ups in awareness, diagnostic testing, and treatment of viral hepatitis infections. It is certainly an attainable goal, and one way that we can all help the effort and protect our own health is to get tested. To find a testing location in your area, visit the CDC’s Get Tested site.
Sonia Canzater is a senior associate with the Infectious Diseases Initiative, where she oversees the Hepatitis Policy Project, and is part of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative.