Our efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year have reinforced many public health lessons, including the importance of communication, community engagement, and a comprehensive testing strategy to reduce the spread of infection. These same lessons hold true for another epidemic affecting our Nation: the silent epidemic of viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is a serious, preventable public health threat that puts people who are infected at increased risk for serious disease and death. When left undiagnosed and untreated, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can cause liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even early death. Hepatitis D, which occurs only among individuals infected with hepatitis B, can also cause serious liver disease. On this National Hepatitis Testing Day, I call on all Americans who are at risk for hepatitis to get tested, and for all health care providers to educate their patients about viral hepatitis.
Our Nation has set a goal to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. Thanks to Federal investment in medical research, we have the technology and tools to provide safe and effective hepatitis vaccines and therapeutics that can reduce mortality and even lead to a cure. Despite this progress, an estimated 2.4 million Americans are living with hepatitis C, and more than 860,000 are living with hepatitis B — many of whom unknowingly suffer its effects. Approximately 200,000 Americans are infected with hepatitis D every year. Infection with hepatitis D in an individual already infected with hepatitis B — known as superinfection — leads to a more rapid progression towards liver cancer. We must increase prevention, testing, and awareness to provide people the life-saving treatment they need. Because of the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans must cover hepatitis B and hepatitis C testing with no cost-sharing.