The hepatitis epidemic is hitting Hawaii harder than other states

The hepatitis epidemic is hitting Hawaii harder than other states

HONOLULU (KHON2) – Hepatitis C is curable. Hepatitis B is treatable. Both are preventable, so why does one US state have such high rates of it?

Did you know that the death rate for liver cancer in Hawaii due to hepatitis B and C is higher than in the continental United States?

“When we look at hepatitis B, and hepatitis C specifically, we also see higher mortality rates for both types than in the continental United States,” says Thaddeus Pham, viral hepatitis prevention coordinator for the Hawaii Department of Health. “People who die from hepatitis in Hawaii — hepatitis C specifically — can die 20 years earlier than residents in the rest of the state.”

correct. There is a 20-year difference in life expectancy between those who develop curable hepatitis C and those who do not.

FAM and the Department of Health are in the middle of developing surveillance infrastructure as part of the HepFree by 2030 campaign, which will track the spread of viral hepatitis and hopefully begin to pinpoint details about who gets hepatitis and how.

Now, don’t let the word surveillance scare you. This is not what you might think. This is a system that will allow the Ministry of Health to assist those who have contracted viral hepatitis in order to link them to care and help develop prevention strategies.

There are three types of hepatitis.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is contracted when a person comes into contact with contaminated feces in their mouth. This has been seen with foods that served as a conduit that spread hepatitis. These foods are often imported into the United States.

It can be prevented by vaccine, but some people develop natural immunity to it. However, if you contract it through contaminated food, it is important to know the source. This is one way the surveillance system Pham is working on comes into play.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B spreads in the same way as HIV. Therefore, from mother to child, through sexual contact or through contact with contaminated blood. There is no cure for hepatitis B. Pham said it can be controlled with simple, safe medications.

So, if you develop chronic hepatitis B, you will receive treatment to lower the level of the virus. But you will always have. However, you can prevent shrinkage by grafting.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C spreads from blood to blood. Typically, this is hepatitis that comes with sharing drug paraphernalia, such as needles. Although hepatitis C is curable with short, safe treatment, there is no immunity or vaccine.


Pham provided with some statistics on how hepatitis is affecting Hawaii. He noted that since the monitoring system is still under development, there is still a lot to learn from data collection and monitoring.

  • Hepatitis B mortality rates – Ministry of Health report.
    • Hawaii had higher rates than the United States from 2000 to 2020.
      • Hawaii’s rate was three times higher than the United States in 2019.
    • Within Hawaii, rates are higher among Asian and Pacific Islanders (1.2 to 1.4 times), compared to the state average.
  • Liver cancer death rates – Ministry of Health report.
    • Hawaii had higher rates than the United States from 2000 to 2020.
    • Hawaii rates increased from 2000 to 2020 by 7.96 per 100,000 to 9.41 per 100,000.
    • The rates are due in part to disparities among Asian and Pacific Islander populations.
    • Note: Hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus are the leading causes of liver cancer in Hawaii, according to a journal article.
  • Hepatitis C virus death rates – journal article and CDC data.
    • Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is associated with up to 20 years lower life expectancy than the rest of the state.
    • Hawaii is the state with the highest proportion of NHAPI decedents among deaths listed in HCV (2016-17).

The spread of hepatitis C is why things like syringe exchange are important to prevent. You can visit HepFree2030 for information and resources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults, regardless of potential risk, be tested at least once for both hepatitis B and C, Pham said.

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