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Reaching Out to Minorities During Hepatitis Awareness Month

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Reaching Out to Minorities During Hepatitis Awareness Month

African Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders are diagnosed with hepatitis at alarming rates

Did you know that millions of Americans (mostly baby boomers) are living with chronic hepatitis and up to two-thirds may not even know they are infected? Annually, in May, the public health community commemorates Hepatitis Awareness Month to bring attention to this disease, its symptoms, testing and treatment options. This year, we are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct outreach for minority groups most affected by hepatitis: African Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders.

Hepatitis, which means “inflammation of the liver,” can cause nausea, abdominal pain, jaundice, joint pain and malaise. Chronic hepatitis can lead to serious complications like cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease or cancer. Hepatitis A (HAV), hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) are the most common strains found in the United States. Knowing your status and getting treatment early can potentially prevent these life threatening complications.

The statistics below show alarming disparities in the number of African Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders being diagnosed with and dying from hepatitis.

African Americans

25 percent of all patients living with HCV are African Americans.
Among 45- to 65-year-old African American’s, HCV-related chronic liver disease is the leading cause of death.
HCV accounts for 8 percent of all African-American deaths compared to 4 percent of white deaths.
Patients with sickle cell disease (which primarily affects African Americans) are at increased risk for contracting hepatitis if they received a blood transfusion prior to 1992, when blood banks began screening blood.
Asian Pacific Islanders

50 percent or more of Americans living with chronic HBV are Asian Pacific Islanders.
Asian Pacific Islanders experience mortality rates from HBV seven times greater than whites.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is committed to advancing the health, safety and well-being of all Americans through the regulation of diagnostic tests, medicines and vaccines, as well as monitoring post market safety of health-care products and ensuring diversity in clinical trials.

One area that my office specifically focuses on is increasing diversity in clinical trials. Data has shown that African Americans and other races respond differently to hepatitis treatments. For example, in the VIRAHEP-C clinical trial, 28 percent of African Americans were cured by the tested treatment, compared to 52 percent of whites. These results highlight why it is important to increase diversity of participants in clinical trials so we can learn how all groups respond to FDA regulated products, thus helping to ensure the safety of medical products for all.

May 19th is National Hepatitis Testing Day!

Spread the word to increase testing and early treatment. These resources are available to help your community:

CDC’s hepatitis risk assessment tool
Testing site locator
Campaign materials
Photo: Depositphotos

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Jovonni R. Spinner/FDA