News Feature | August 6, 2014

NICE Renews Efforts To Prevent Hepatitis

By Lori Clapper

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) announced new quality standards aimed at the preventing hepatitis B transmission and improving the lives of those living with the condition.

The new standard addresses the following issues:

  • Testing strategies: Testing and vaccines are to be made available in places visited by or accessible to those at risk groups, such as sexual health clinics, drug services, immigration centers and general practitioners’ offices.
  • Pregnant women: Those who test positive for hepatitis B at antenatal screening should have a specialist assessment within 6 weeks. This will allow doctors to be proactive, using antiviral treatment (tenofovir) if needed to help reduce the risk of infecting the baby.
  • Personalized care plans: Regular monitoring is encouraged so those who suffer with hepatitis B have the ability to live better with the condition.
  • Vaccination of babies: NICE strongly encourages infant vaccination because it has proved highly effective in preventing transmission of hepatitis B. The standard also states that if the mother tests positive for the disease, the baby should receive a complete course of hepatitis B vaccination.

“In some people, hepatitis B develops as an acute infection which clears quickly, whereas in others, the infection progresses to become a chronic disease, leading to long-term liver damage or even liver cancer,” Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said. “This new quality standard sets out prioritized statements for the NHS to ensure appropriate services are available to identify and treat people with hepatitis B.”

Research shows most new hepatitis cases arise through immigrants who move into the UK. Since those migrant groups are at an increased risk, they should be the main focus for hepatitis testing, along with other high-risk populations like people who inject drugs or have had unprotected sex with someone who is infected with the hepatitis B virus.

Those groups add up to nearly 325,000 people who are infected within the UK. Although this number is considered low on a global scale, “Hepatitis B is between 50 and 100 times more infectious than HIV, making it a considerable public health concern,” says NICE.