May is Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness that close to 5 million Americans are infected with chronic viral hepatitis (B and C) and that it is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplant in the United States.1 Local health departments play an important role in addressing viral hepatitis, from providing vaccinations for hepatitis A and B to assuring or directly conducting surveillance, prevention, education, screening, and linkage to care for hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is an especially exciting time for HCV, with advances in treatment that have moved away from interferon-based treatment to all-oral direct-acting therapies that have resulted in high rates of sustained virologic response (cure) with few side effects.2 However, significant challenges remain, such as a limited access to treatment for those who need it and a changing epidemic that is being fueled by increases in opioid and injection drug use.
Nevertheless, the advances in HCV treatment have significantly changed the conversation. For example, we are now asking “Will we see HCV eradicated in the next 10–15 years?” This was one of the many inspiring questions posed last Friday, May 1, at a leadership summit on HCV policy held in Harrisburg, PA, which I had the privilege of attending. The summit was organized by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Health and included over 90 participants from the local, state, national, and federal levels. Representatives from local health departments in York, Erie, Allegheny, and Bucks County were in attendance, as were representatives from alcohol and drug treatment programs, the state Medicaid office, national partner organizations, the federal government, industry, health plans, academia, community health centers, private providers, and patients.
Conversations revolved around the state of HCV in Pennsylvania, the federal response, screening and linkage to care, advances in treatment, and access to treatment. The summit underscored the importance of public health collaboration with behavioral health and primary care and emphasized the need for innovation to address a very rapidly changing landscape. The meeting was also an important reminder of the critical role local health departments play as conveners in their communities and across their states.
Last Friday also marked the launch of NACCHO’s Local Health Departments and Hepatitis C educational series. Among the webcasts that make up the first module in the series is “Hepatitis C Virus: An Overview and Introduction to the Role of Local Health Departments,” presented by Alex Shirreffs, Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinator at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. In the webcast, Ms. Shirreffs discusses strategies for leveraging partnerships to address HCV and details how they are doing so in Philadelphia. The other three webcasts in Module 1 describe the epidemiologic profile of HCV in the United States, advances in HCV treatment, the National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing recommendations for people born between 1945 and 1965. Throughout the year, NACCHO will develop and disseminate additional educational modules, resources, and tools. You can access these resources at www.naccho.org/hepatitisc.
NACCHO is always looking to learn more about local health department hepatitis C activities and to help disseminate best practices and lessons learned. If you are interested in sharing your work, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Viral Hepatitis webpage. Retrieved May 6, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/
- Infectious Diseases Society of America. (2014). Recommendations for Testing, Managing, and Treating Hepatitis C. Retrieved May 6, 2015, from http://www.hcvguidelines.org/fullreport