USPSTF Issues Updated Hepatitis B Screening Guidelines

Hepatitis B screening is key to stopping spread of the infection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While there is no cure for hepatitis B, doctors can treat infected patients to prevent serious complications. But first, these doctors need to know who is infected, which is why experts recently updated screening guidelines for hepatitis B.

These updated guidelines recommend hepatitis B screening for all high-risk teens and adults. High-risk groups include injection drug users, people from certain regions around the world, those with weak immune systems and many others.

The guidelines also recommend various ways to prevent the spread of hepatitis B to others, such as practicing safe sex and not sharing needles or other personal items like razors and toothbrushes.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is transmitted through contact with blood or other body fluids. The condition can become chronic and lead to liver failure, liver cancer or liver scarring. However, there is an available vaccine for the disease.

Chronic hepatitis B is more common in infants and children. Adults generally experience a full recovery.

"Talk to your doctor about screening for hepatitis B."

The new recommendations, from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), are part of a national strategy to eliminate transmission of the virus that causes hepatitis B. The strategy includes universal vaccination of infants at birth, catchup vaccinations for adolescents and screening/vaccinations of other high-risk groups.

People from Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, China, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and northern South America are considered high-risk due to the prevalence of the disease in those areas and should be screened.

Other people considered high-risk and in need of regular screenings are those who have tested positive for HIV, injection drug users, patients with weak immune systems, patients undergoing treatment for kidney failure, people who engage in same-sex intercourse, and those living with or having sex with someone who carries the hepatitis B virus.

“Today, most people born in the US have been vaccinated for Hepatitis B, which is the best way to prevent the infection,” Mark Ebell, MD, MS, member of the task force, said in a prepared statement. "Because of this, most people in the US are not at risk of getting hepatitis B.”

But there are about 2.2 million people in America who are chronically infected. Between 15 percent and 25 percent of that group die from liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Symptoms include feeling very tired, mild fever, headache, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, diarrhea, constipation, muscle aches, joint pain, skin rash and yellowing of the eyes or skin.

Hepatitis B can be transmitted in a number of ways, including unprotected sex, sharing needles for drug use, getting a tattoo or piercing from an unsterilized needle, and sharing personal items like toothbrushes or razors with an infected person.

Commenting on the updated recommendations, Steve Scaglione, MD, hepatologist at Loyola University Health System, said, “Many people with hepatitis B do not show any symptoms so they are not diagnosed which means they keep transmitting the disease to others. Increased screening means the disease is diagnosed earlier, treated earlier and better controlled."

Dr. Scaglione added, "Advancements in treatment for hepatitis B are being made but prevention and early diagnosis are still the best route for public health.”

The new recommendations were published online in the current issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the peer-reviewed publication of the American College of Physicians.

Review Date: 
June 6, 2014
Last Updated:
June 6, 2014