Health Department Notes
The ABCs of viral hepatitis May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are three types of viral hepatitis. While each can produce similar symptoms, each hepatitis virus affects the liver differently, has different routes of transmission, and has different populations that are commonly affected. Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected and can be spread when someone ingests the virus, usually through eating contaminated food or drink or close personal contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A is very contagious and people can even spread the virus before they get symptoms. However, hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine, which is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including travelers to certain international countries. Since the hepatitis A vaccine was first recommended in 1996, cases of hepatitis A in the United States have declined dramatically. Unfortunately, in recent years the number of people infected has been increasing because there have been multiple outbreaks of hepatitis A in many jurisdictions across the United States. These outbreaks have primarily been from person-to-person contact, especially among people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness and men who have sex with men. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and adults at risk, but many people were infected before the vaccine was widely available. Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Some people who become infected, especially young children, can go on to develop a chronic or lifelong infection. Over time, chronic hepatitis B virus infection can cause serious liver damage, and even liver cancer. Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world, including Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Hepatitis B is preventable with a vaccine. The hepatitis B virus can be passed from an infected woman to her baby at birth, if her baby does not receive the hepatitis B vaccine. As a result, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and adults at risk. Unfortunately, many people were infected before the hepatitis B vaccine was widely available. That’s why CDC recommends anyone born in areas where hepatitis B is common, or whose parents were born in these regions, get tested for hepatitis B. Treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer. Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. Most people who get infected will develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver disease, liver failure and even liver cancer. The hepatitis C virus is usually spread when someone comes into contact with blood from an infected person. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1990 and the hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes or any other equipment to inject drugs. In fact, rates of new infections have been on the rise, due in part to the increase in injection drug use. While more rare, hepatitis C can also spread through healthcare exposures, sex with an infected person, birth to an infected mother, and tattoos and body piercings from unlicensed facilities or informal settings. People with hepatitis C often have no symptoms, so testing is the only way to know if you are infected. CDC recommends anyone born from 1945-1965, as well as anyone else at risk, get tested for hepatitis C. There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Fortunately, new treatments offer a cure for most people. Once diagnosed, most people with hepatitis C can be cured in just eight to 12 weeks, reducing liver cancer risk by 75 percent. Millions of Americans are living with chronic hepatitis, yet most don’t know it. People can live for decades without symptoms, but over time, chronic hepatitis can cause serious health problems. Talk to your doctor about getting tested. It could save your life.