Uncovering the Hidden Threat: Hepatitis B and C in Philadelphia

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — The Philadelphia Health Department recently issued its first annual public health surveillance report on Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in Philadelphia. This report summarizes the distribution of these two infections within the city in 2021. This information is a valuable resource to inform residents and service providers about the impact of these viruses among city residents, and the need for a greater level of attention and resources to prevent, diagnose, and treat hepatitis B and hepatitis C in Philadelphia.

According to Dr. Landrus Burress, Director for the Division of Disease Control, “The tools exist to prevent and treat hepatitis B and C, but barriers to those resources affect how Philadelphia residents access and utilize these resources. This report provides data that highlights there are many people in the city who need support to reduce the inequities in access to vaccination, screening, treatment, and cure. “

The 2021 Annual Report of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in Philadelphia shows that over 25,000 residents are positive for hepatitis B and almost 53,000 residents are positive for hepatitis C infections. However, because these conditions often show no symptoms, many people are not diagnosed, it is likely these are underestimates of the true impact within Philadelphia. Both infections are occurring throughout the city and are affecting every residential zip code. The number of newly reported chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections have declined in recent years. However, infection rates continue to increase and contribute to the large prevalence of each disease.

This report shows that 61% of newly reported cases of chronic hepatitis B were among Asian and Black/African communities in Philadelphia, and 47% were among people 25 – 44 years of age. New acute and chronic hepatitis C infections were primarily seen among males, those who were 25-44 years of age, and Black individuals. A shift has occurred from previous years with the majority of reported acute hepatitis C in 2021 being among Black and Hispanic individuals, and those 15‑39 years of age. Furthermore, this report shows 164 deaths among Philadelphia residents in 2021 were attributable to hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C transmission occurs through contact with blood and other bodily fluids (i.e., semen and in the case of hepatitis B, vaginal fluid) of a person living with the infection, including at birth. The wide impact of these diseases highlights the need for harm reduction services, resources to increase hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination, improved community awareness, and improved treatment access in the communities most affected. Efforts aimed at addressing health inequities within our healthcare system must be considered in order to reduce hepatitis rates for some populations. This report provides valuable information that will enable the city to determine the best strategic approaches to reduce barriers to care and improve access to life saving screening, vaccination, and treatment.

In 2023, the Health Department plans to release the Philadelphia Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C Elimination Plan to identify strategies to markedly reduce the impact of these two diseases on Philadelphia residents by 2030. Future annual reports will be produced to track progress and provide ongoing guidance for these strategies.

The Viral Hepatitis Program of the Health Department encourages all Philadelphians to learn more about viral hepatitis and do what you can to improve your own health as well as that of your communities.

Philadelphians are encouraged to learn something new about hepatitis B and hepatitis Cget tested and get vaccinatedengage in care if you have either condition; talk with family and friends to reduce stigma around hepatitis B and hepatitis C; and, of course, provide feedback to the city’s elimination planning.

If you are interested in learning more about hepatitis B and hepatitis C or in viewing resources and providers in Philadelphia, please visit Phillyhepatitis.org. Find the closest pharmacies that vaccinate for hepatitis A and hepatitis B on hepcap.org, the Hepatitis C Allies of Philadelphia (HepCAP) coalition website.

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