National Medical Association Releases New Hepatitis Prevention and Treatment Guidelines
The National Medical Association, which represents African-American providers, has released new guidelines for the prevention and treatment of viral hepatitis, focusing on the high number of cases found in African Americans, Reuters Health reports. Timed to coincide with the HHS Healthy People 2010 initiative, which focuses on reducing health disparities, the guidelines focus on four "key" initiatives: universal vaccination, increased education, advocacy and disease surveillance. They also call for more research into eliminating viral hepatitis. Universal vaccinations for young adults are necessary "[b]ecause of the increased sexual activity and drug activity between the ages of 13 and 34," NMA President Dr. Lucille Norville Perez noted. Requiring the vaccine with college admission physicals or job placement screenings "would be appropriate," she added.
Blacks Disproportionately Affected
Blacks have a "significantly higher prevalence" of hepatitis B and C -- two strains of the virus that can be transmitted through blood, sexual contact and intravenous drug use -- than whites. Blacks also tend to develop chronic hepatitis infection more often than whites because they are "typically" diagnosed later. Other factors such as alcohol use, poverty, poor nutrition and "overall worse health status" increase African Americans' chances of disease progression, Perez said. She noted that blood transfusions before 1990, when hepatitis screening became standard, also led to more infections among African Americans because blacks require more blood transfusions than whites due to race-specific diseases such as sickle cell anemia. Vaccine access has also been unequal, she noted, adding that black infants are less likely to be inoculated against hepatitis B. "This doesn't get highlighted often, but if a mother is chronically infected, about 90% of infants who are not immunized will themselves develop chronic hepatitis B," she explained (Gale, Reuters Health, 10/23).