A disease unknown to many Americans, chronic viral hepatitis threatens to cause liver failure for millions of unsuspecting people. As many as 5.3 million Americans are infected, many of whom don’t know it.
Research by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) revealed that neither the public nor health care providers are well educated about viral hepatitis. To address this problem, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a viral hepatitis action plan that directed HHS agencies to conduct many prevention activities, including increase public and provider awareness about viral hepatitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is helping the country meet the prevention goals set out in the 2011 action plan by launching a national education campaign to raise awareness of hepatitis and increase the number of people who are tested for it.
Hepatitis simply means "inflammation of the liver," and there are five types - Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Some, like Hepatitis A, can be transmitted through contaminated food and make you sick for a short period of time with no lasting effects. Hepatitis B and C, however, are transmitted by blood and can cause chronic infection that can lead to liver disease and cancer. While the "alphabet soup" of hepatitis can be fascinating for researchers, it can be confusing for everyone else - including people who may be at risk.
“Many people, especially baby boomers, don’t understand that they might be at risk,” said Cynthia Jorgensen, head of the communications, education and training unit of CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, which is responsible for CDC's National Hepatitis Education Campaign. “They assume they would know if they were infected because they would have symptoms, and that is not correct. People can live for 20 or 30 years with the virus and not ever have a symptom. Many of them mistakenly believe that they have been tested for viral hepatitis since they go to their doctors and get annual blood tests, but again, this is not correct.”
Through the Know More Hepatitis* education campaign, CDC hopes to raise general awareness of chronic viral hepatitis, who is at risk, and how it can be prevented, detected, and treated. Because people born during 1945-1965 (baby boomers) have a high prevalence of hepatitis C infection and are at risk for HCV-associated liver disease, Know More Hepatitis targets this birth cohort and the health-care providers serving them.
A key goal of the campaign is to provide health-care providers with the right information and tools to talk to their patients about the disease, test for it and, when needed, connect patients to appropriate treatment and care. The campaign also encourages those who are at risk for chronic hepatitis C infection, like baby boomers, to talk to their health-care providers about getting tested. Through the Know More Hepatitis campaign, CDC has developed a set of materials, including a public service announcement and an online hepatitis risk assessment tool. This tool was designed to help patients determine their risk for hepatitis, enabling patients to answer questions confidentially in their own homes or, if they prefer, in the presence of their provider within the health-care setting.
“We want consumers to understand that they might be at risk for hepatitis and, if they are, to talk to their doctors about getting tested,” said Jorgensen. “Getting people information and early treatment can save lives.”
*Know More Hepatitis is supported by grants to the CDC Foundation from Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Additional funding opportunities are available.