American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
January 2011 Clinical Laboratory News: News Brief

Hidden Epidemic: Chronic HBV and HCV Infections

A new report released by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Trust for America’s Health found that 2 million Americans are currently living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and 2.7–3.9 million more are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). Experts estimate that 65–75% of these individuals don’t know they are infected.

The report, titled “HBV & HCV: America’s Hidden Epidemics,” outlines new strategies and policies to combat the diseases, such as the creation of a comprehensive surveillance system that could be constructed using existing surveillance systems for HIV or other infectious diseases. The surveillance system would leverage these resources and create an integrated approach for treating and preventing the diseases.

In the U.S., HBV and HCV infection contributes to more than three-quarters of liver cancer cases and 57% of cirrhosis cases. Statistics show that HBV infection causes nearly 3,000–4,000 deaths each year from liver cancer or severe liver disease, and HCV infection contributes to an estimated 8,000 to 13,000 deaths annually.

News Brief

The report also emphasizes the need for improved screening and diagnostic tools to prevent and treat HBV and HCV infection. Fast and inexpensive blood tests already exist for HBV and HCV; however, the report points out that many Americans have not been tested because they lack access to preventive services and information.

The lack of screening tests that can be performed at the point of care remains a major concern. These tests could aid in identifying individuals with active infections and allow rapid referral to care.

Some improvement in screening may be on the horizon; however. Popular Science magazine recently named OraSure Technologies’ rapid HCV test as a top technology innovation of 2010 and honored the assay with a “Best of What’s New” award. The test was praised for being the first-ever, rapid, point-of-care test approved by the FDA for the detection of antibodies to HCV.

The full report is available online.