In Rural Villages Across India, an Everyday Hero Works to Eradicate Hepatitis B

Villagers in India attend an education class to learn how to prevent hepatitis B.

Villagers in India attend an education class to learn how to prevent hepatitis B.

By Christine Kukka

India has one of the highest hepatitis B infection rates in the world. An estimated 40 percent of all hepatitis B deaths worldwide occur in India each year, and about 3 percent of its 1.25 billion residents – about 40 million — are chronically infected.

This liver disease wrecks medical and emotional havoc in India. People diagnosed with hepatitis B struggle to attend schools, advance professionally, and even marry due to the ignorance and stigma surrounding this infection.

Like many countries, India’s government is struggling to find resources to screen, immunize, and treat the millions of people affected by hepatitis B. But some people, including Surender Kumar and Sandeep Godara of New Delhi, are not waiting for the government to eradicate hepatitis B.

The two men have created a nonprofit organization called Rann India Foundation and enlisted support from various organizations and pharmaceutical companies to raise awareness about hepatitis B in some of the poorest slums and rural regions of India. Increasingly, advocates like Kumar and their grassroots army of volunteers and staff are needed to combat hepatitis B globally. Continue reading

Celebrate Fathers Day By Protecting Your Health and Your Families’ — Get Tested for Hepatitis B

Courtesy of the U.S. CDC.

Courtesy of the U.S. CDC.

By Christine Kukka

After our daughter was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B 20 years ago, my doctor immediately had me tested for hepatitis B before I could leave her office. She explained that every household member, including my husband, had to be tested for the liver infection that’s transmitted by direct contact with blood and body fluids. ASAP.

The good news was my daughter, who was adopted, appeared healthy and showed no signs of liver damage. The bad news was my husband and I were shaken to the core by her diagnosis. Weighed down by worry and ignorance, I feared we might all be infected and were facing a death sentence.

I drove out to my husband’s work and we went for a walk. I explained what the doctor had said and explained he had to get tested. It was one of those moments when fear and denial play out over the course of a conversation. Like everyone, he was afraid to get tested. He felt fine, at first he didn’t want to know whether he was infected. For a few moments, he thought ignorance might be less painful than finding out he had hepatitis B.

And, as in most families, this disclosure wasn’t easy. He had children from his first marriage who were with us every weekend and they had to be tested too. He would have to share this information with his former wife. This disclosure was going to upend two households. After a few minutes of waffling and processing, he did what courageous fathers do. He got tested and made sure his children were tested too.

The news was all good. His children had been immunized and were fine, he was not infected and was immediately immunized. Today, we are all doing fine, including our daughter.

Every father’s day, I think about that moment, when my husband refused to  retreat into denial, when he put his family’s health ahead of his initial impulse to hide from a frightening and messy situation. It is what being a good father is all about, and it takes courage.

A growing number of studies show fathers are critical to the emotional well-being of their children. When they are affectionate, supportive, and involved, they bolster a child’s emotional development, as well as academic achievement.

A child’s relationship with his/her father affects all of their future relationships and helps define what the child considers to be acceptable and loving. When involved with their children, fathers make a difference. No matter if he is married, single, divorced, widowed, gay, straight, adoptive, step-father, a stay-at-home dad, or the primary family provider,  one of the most profound things he can do is protect the health of his family—and himself–by getting tested for hepatitis B.

There are many men who are at risk of hepatitis B because of where they or their parents or grandparents emigrated from, or if they served in the military, dabbled in drugs, or had multiple sex partners. That was in the past, and this is today, a time to protect your health and your family by getting tested for hepatitis B.

The CDC offers short video clips that feature a conversation between a daughter and her parents, with the daughter explaining why Asian-Americans should be tested for hepatitis B in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean. A high percentage of Asian and African immigrants have hepatitis B, but most don’t know they are infected. To view these clips, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/knowhepatitisb/materials.htm

One in Three People Worldwide Has Had Hepatitis B, So Why Do We Feel So Alone?

Volunteers from the Rann India Foundation teach villagers about hepatitis B testing and prevention in India.

Volunteers from the Rann India Foundation teach villagers about hepatitis B testing and prevention in India.

By Christine Kukka

Hepatitis B is the global pandemic no one talks about, yet one in three people worldwide has been infected. In 2013, hepatitis B and C together was the seventh-leading cause of death worldwide, with hepatitis B causing 780,000 deaths annually.

Today, 240 million people have chronic hepatitis B. Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, the number of people living with hepatitis B virus is projected to remain at the current, unacceptably high level for decades and cause 20 million deaths through 2030.

How can this happen? Viral hepatitis infection and death rates far outstrip that of ebola and zika. In fact, you have to combine the death toll from HIV and tuberculosis to find human suffering on par with what viral hepatitis causes around the world each year. Continue reading

Twitter Chat: Partner Highlights From Hepatitis Awareness Month

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Join Hep B United, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and the Hepatitis B Foundation for a Twitter #HepChat Wednesday, June 15 at 2 p.m. EDT. The chat will highlight Hepatitis Awareness Month outreach events and allow hepatitis B and C partner organizations to share their successes, challenges, and lessons learned from their efforts.

Continue reading

Newly Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? Acute or Chronic? Learning the HBV Basics…

Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’ve just been diagnosed with hepatitis B after a routine blood test or following a blood donation, you may be feeling overwhelmed with information about this complicated infection and references to acute or chronic hepatitis B.

Here is an explanation of these two terms and what happens when you’re first infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and body fluids. It can be spread during unprotected sex, unsafe medical procedures, exposure to blood that enters your body through a cut,  or by sharing personal items such as body jewelry or toothbrushes. Most commonly it is spread during childbirth when the mother is infected.

What is a chronic infection? When we’re infected as newborns or young children, our immature immune systems don’t notice or fight the virus and it travels to our liver and begins reproducing. With no opposition from our immune systems, a hepatitis B infection can continue for years. When a hepatitis B infection lasts longer than six months, it is considered a chronic or long-term infection. Most people with chronic hepatitis B were infected at birth or during early childhood. Immunization with the hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG), if available, within 12 to 24 hours of birth can break this mother-to-child infection cycle, but the birth vaccine dose and often HBIG is not always available around the world.

What is an acute infection? When we’re infected with HBV as healthy adults, about 90 percent of us are able to get rid of the infection within six months. It can take up to six months for our immune systems to generate antibodies and eradicate the infection in our liver. This short-term infection is called acute hepatitis B.

To determine if you have an acute or chronic infection, you must be tested for hepatitis B over a six-month period. The specific test that indicates if you are infected is the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) test. This antigen covers the surface of the virus and usually there are lots of HBsAg in your blood when you’re infected. If you test positive for HBsAg for longer than six months, it means you have a chronic hepatitis B infection.

But, if you no longer test positive (or “reactive”) for HBsAg after six months and you develop hepatitis B surface antibodies (HBsAb), then you have cleared hepatitis B after an “acute” infection. There are some additional blood tests that your doctor may order to get a better understanding of your infection, but not everyone has access to these tests. Some tests are rather expensive and they may still need to be repeated over time in order to confirm the diagnosis. Please be patient. The good news is that hepatitis B is not typically an emergency.

Here is more good news. If you are a healthy adult and are newly or acutely infected, know that your chances are good that the hepatitis B infection will go away on its own. It is rare that you require medication to get rid of the virus, your immune system does that for you.  A person with a new hepatitis B infection may not have any symptoms, or they may not be very notable. For example, you might feel more tired. About 70 percent of people newly-infected with hepatitis B never experience symptoms.

But, some people experience severe symptoms like jaundice (yellowing skin or eyes), severe nausea or vomiting, or a bloated stomach (unrelated to your weight), and they need to see a doctor immediately. If you have a new or acute infection, even these drastic symptoms may not necessarily mean that you need any form of treatment, but you will need to be monitored with additional tests to make sure your liver is safe.

If you can’t confirm you were infected as a child, you will need to wait the six months to find out if you cleared your infection. Please be patient and do not panic, but remember you do need to take precautions during this time to make sure you don’t spread the infection to others. Practice safe sex (use a condom), and don’t share personal items that may have trace amounts of blood on them.

Also, you can suggest that your family members get screened for hepatitis B and vaccinated if needed. If you were infected at birth, there is a chance that your siblings may also be infected. Sexual partners and close household members should also be tested. There may be a nine-week period right after infection when they may not test positive for HBsAg even if they have been infected.