May has been designated Hepatitis Awareness Month in the United States. The CDC reports an estimated 862,000 Americans are living with hepatitis B and 2.4 million are living with hepatitis C. These figures show the significance in knowing your risks to Hepatitis and taking preventative actions.
Throughout this month agencies and offices within federal and state government along with local partners work together to raise awareness of viral hepatitis –stressing the importance of vaccination for Hepatitis A and B, testing for hepatitis B and C, as well as the availability of successful care and treatment.
Today on Hepatitis Testing Day, May 19, we want to share some important information about this contagious but preventable disease.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. This condition is often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common causes of viral hepatitis are hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), although it can also be caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV).
Hepatitis B and C share forms of transmission and can cause severe liver disease, liver cancer and death. The virus disproportionately affects different populations, and there are different tools to address each type of viral hepatitis.
There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B, but there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Both Hepatitis B and C can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. There is no cure for hepatitis A or B, but with proper care and antiviral treatment there can be a reduction of severe liver damage. There is a cure for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A can be transmitted when a person ingests the virus from food, drinks or other objects that have been contaminated by small amounts of stool from an infected person. Anyone who has not been vaccinated or previously infected can become infected with HAV. The most common risk factors among people with new HAV infections include:
- drug use (injection and non-injection)
- having sex with an infected person
- coming in direct contact with a person who has HAV
- traveling to countries where HAV infection is common
HAV is highly contagious however the vaccine is safe and effective and is usually given in two shots, six months apart.
Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease that is proven to be safe and effective.
The CDC estimates that 68% of people with chronic hepatitis B are unaware of their infection. The only way to find out if you have hepatitis B is to get tested. There are several antiviral treatments available for chronic hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Most people become infected with HCV by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. The best way to prevent HCV infection is to avoid contact with contaminated blood.
About 40% of people with chronic hepatitis C are unaware of their infection. The only way to find out if you have a hepatitis C infection is to get tested through a simple blood test.