March 10, 2023 – Two-thirds of people in the U.S. who have the hepatitis B virus do not know they have it, raising the risk of developing incurable liver disease. Now, the CDC recommends that all U.S. adults get tested for the virus at least once during their lifetime.
The CDC estimates that between 580,000 and 2.4 million people in the U.S. have the hepatitis B virus. The new testing recommendation comes as the country has been unable to reduce the low but persistent rate of infections. A highly effective vaccine is available, but 70% of adults say they haven’t gotten it.
Previously, the CDC recommended testing only for people at elevated risk. That risk-based method is stigmatizing, “has not identified most persons living with chronic HBV infection and is considered inefficient for providers to implement,” the agency explained in its advisory.
“Universal screening of adults is cost-effective compared with risk-based screening and averts liver disease and death,” the CDC advisory continued, noting that people with hepatitis B have up to an 85% increased risk of premature death.
The virus is transmitted through contact with infected blood or body fluids, such as during sex, childbirth, or using injected drugs. Most people who contract the virus experience short-term illness, with symptoms such as fatigue, reduced appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice.
The new recommendations are expected to identify cases that could progress to severe illness. The CDC estimates that universal screening could prevent about two liver transplants and 10 deaths per 100,000 people screened.