From the Journals

CDC recommends screening all adults for hepatitis B


All adults should be tested for hepatitis B virus (HBV) at least once in their lifetime, according to updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is the first update to HBV screening guidelines since 2008, the agency said.

“Risk-based testing alone has not identified most persons living with chronic HBV infection and is considered inefficient for providers to implement,” the authors wrote in the new guidance, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “Universal screening of adults for HBV infection is cost-effective, compared with risk-based screening and averts liver disease and death. Although a curative treatment is not yet available, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic HBV infections reduces the risk for cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death.”

Howard Lee, MD, an assistant professor in the section of gastroenterology and hepatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, agreed that risk-based screening has not been effective. A universal screening approach “is the way to go,” he said. With this new screening approach, patients can get tested without having to admit that they may be at risk for a chronic disease like HIV and HBV, which can be stigmatizing, said Dr. Lee, who was not involved with making these recommendations.

An estimated 580,000 to 2.4 million individuals are living with HBV infection in the United States, and two-thirds may be unaware they are infected, according to the CDC. The virus spreads through contact with blood, semen, and other body fluids of an infected person.

The guidance now recommends using the triple panel (HBsAg, anti-HBs, total anti-HBc) for initial screening.

“It can help identify persons who have an active HBV infection and could be linked to care; have resolved infection and might be susceptible to reactivation (for example, immunosuppressed persons); are susceptible and need vaccination; or are vaccinated,” the authors wrote.

Patients with previous HBV infection can have the infection reactivated with immunosuppressive treatments, Dr. Lee said, which is why detecting prior infection via the triple panel screening is important.

Women who are pregnant should be screened, ideally, in the first trimester of each pregnancy, regardless of vaccination status or testing history. If they have already received timely triple panel screening for hepatitis B and have no new HBV exposures, pregnant women only need HBsAg screening, the guidelines state.

The guidelines also specify that higher risk groups, specifically those incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, adults with current or past hepatitis C virus infection, and those with current or past sexually transmitted infections and multiple sex partners.

People who are susceptible for infection, refuse vaccination and are at higher risk for HBV should be screened periodically, but how often they should be screened should be based on shared decision-making between the provider and patient as well as individual risk and immune status.

Additional research into the optimal frequency of periodic testing is necessary, the authors say.

“Along with vaccination strategies, universal screening of adults and appropriate testing of persons at increased risk for HBV infection will improve health outcomes, reduce the prevalence of HBV infection in the United States, and advance viral hepatitis elimination goals,” the authors wrote.

The new recommendations now contrast with the 2020 screening guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) that recommend risk-based screening for hepatitis B.

“When that recommendation was published, the Task Force was aligned with several other organizations, including the CDC, in supporting screening for hepatitis B in high-risk populations — and importantly, we’re all still aligned in making sure that people get the care that they need,” said Michael Barry, MD, chair of the USPSTF, in an emailed statement. “The evidence on clinical preventive services is always changing, and the Task Force aims to keep all recommendations current, updating each recommendation approximately every 5 years.”

“In the meantime, we always encourage clinicians to use their judgment as they provide care for their patients — including those who may benefit from screening for hepatitis B — and to decide together with each patient which preventive services can best help them live a long and healthy life,” Dr. Barry said.

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases is currently updating their HBV screening recommendations, Dr. Lee said, and he expects other professional societies to follow the CDC recommendations.

“It’s not uncommon that we see the CDC or societies making recommendations and the USPSTF following along, so hopefully that’s the case for hepatitis B as well,” he said.

The authors reported no potential conflicts of interest.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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