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DHHS Releases Viral Hepatitis Action Plan


New DHHS report details plan for prevention, care, and treatment of hepatitis B and C.

During a week that saw the approval of the first direct-acting antiviral drug to treat hepatitis C, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) debuted a new action plan for confronting the "silent epidemic" of viral hepatitis, with a focus on hepatitis B and C. A Congressional briefing accompanied the plan's release on May 12 in Washington, DC.

Hepatitis B and C virus (HBV and HCV) are "silent" because they often remain asymptomatic for many years after initial infection; experts estimate that two-thirds of people with viral hepatitis are not aware they are infected.

Over time, however, hepatitis B and C can progress to severe liver disease including cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Rates of cirrhosis and liver cancer are increasing as "Baby Boomers" infected decades ago reach advanced stages of disease.

The federal government's action plan promotes expanded testing for HBV and HCV so more people will know they are infected and can start timely therapy. New classes of drugs are expected to revolutionize hepatitis C treatment, curing more people and in less time than standard interferon-based therapy. For HBV -- but not yet for HCV -- an effective vaccine is available.

Below is the text of a DHHS press release summarizing some of the key points of the action plan. The full report, Combating the Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis, is available online at

HHS Announces Action Plan to Prevent and Treat Viral Hepatitis

May 12, 2011 -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today launched its action plan to prevent and treat viral hepatitis, a silent epidemic affecting 3.5-5.3 million Americans.

Though viral hepatitis is a leading infectious cause of death in the U.S., many people who have it don't know they are infected, so they are at greater risk for severe -- or even fatal -- complications of the disease. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that health care providers often lack the appropriate training to conduct risk assessments, offer prevention counseling, provide diagnoses and treat viral hepatitis.

"These infections have fueled a tragic cascade of human suffering," said Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH. "The new HHS action plan on viral hepatitis represents an unprecedented call to action for better education, treatment and prevention."

In January 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report on hepatitis, highlighting barriers that impede efforts for hepatitis prevention and control. The new HHS plan -- Combating the Silent Epidemic: US Department of Health and Human Services Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis -- is a response to the IOM report. It outlines a comprehensive action plan to raise awareness about viral hepatitis; creates more opportunities to train health professionals to diagnose, treat, vaccinate, and ultimately save lives; and builds upon the new health insurance reform law to improve patient access to comprehensive viral hepatitis-related prevention and treatment services through expanded coverage.

The plan's success is contingent on leadership of government at all levels and the active and informed participation of communities, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and the private sector.

"No one government agency can fight viral hepatitis alone, and here at CDC, we believe this action plan will not only strengthen the work we've been doing, but help all of us across the government collaborate to take our nation's prevention efforts to the next level," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. "Far too many Americans are unaware of the serious impact of viral hepatitis and the devastating consequences that can result from leaving it untreated. The time for action is now."

"We have seen the increasing prevalence of viral hepatitis in our network of health centers and among people living with HIV/AIDS in underserved areas and we know that minorities and medically vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected," said Health Resources and Services Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, RN, PhD. "This action plan is our best chance at stopping the disease with increased access to information and quality care for those at risk and those who are already infected.

HHS is committed to ensuring that new cases of viral hepatitis are prevented and that persons who are already infected are tested, informed about their infection, and provided with optimal counseling, care and treatment. This increasing commitment is evidenced in the new Healthy People 2020 plan, the first Healthy People publication to document increasing viral hepatitis awareness among infected persons as a formal HHS objective.



U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Combating the Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis: Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis. May 12, 2011.

Other Sources

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OASH Press Office). HHS Announces Action Plan to Prevent and Treat Viral Hepatitis. Press release. May 12, 2011.

C Bates. HHS Announces New Action Plan to Prevent, Care, and Treat Viral Hepatitis. May 12, 2011.

National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable. NVHR Commends New HHS Plan for the Prevention and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis. Press release. May 12, 2011.