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October 2008
Vol. 18 No. 10
Patient Care and Science
CDC Expands Testing Recommendations for Hepatitis B
Stephanie Cox

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published new recommendations to increase routine testing in the United States for chronic hepatitis B, a major cause of liver disease and liver cancer.

CDC now recommends routine testing for individuals born in Asia, Africa, and other geographic regions with a 2 percent or higher prevalence of chronic hepatitis B virus infection. Expanded testing is essential because the rate of liver cancer deaths and chronic hepatitis B in the United States remains high among these groups.

The expanded recommendations also include testing of injection drug users and men who have sexual contact with other men, CDC continues to recommend testing all pregnant women, infants born to infected mothers, household contacts and sex partners of infected individuals, and people with HIV.

These new recommendations are critical to identifying people who are living with the disease without the benefits of medical attention. According to CDC, chronic hepatitis B virus infection affects the lives of as many as 1.4 million Americans.  However, because many chronic hepatitis B virus infections are either asymptomatic or never reported, the actual number of people with infections is estimated to be higher.

The report also advises that persons with chronic hepatitis B virus infections be referred to specialists for ongoing monitoring and medical care. Several new therapies are available, which can delay or reverse the effects of liver disease. In addition, the recommendations urge health care professionals to educate their patients about hepatitis B, begin lifelong monitoring for progression of liver disease, and ensure protection of close contacts of infected persons.

The recommendations are published in the September 19 issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Recommendations & Reports. Visit CDC’s website for more information for health care workers on chronic hepatitis B infection.
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