Protect against viral hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is a silent epidemic in the United States with more than 4 million Americans living with chronic hepatitis, and many not knowing it.

In observation of May being Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are encouraging families to protect themselves from hepatitis disease.

Every year, approximately 15,000 Americans die from liver cancer or chronic liver disease associated with viral hepatitis.

Viral hepatitis is caused by a virus that infects the liver. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common and there is a vaccine to protect against Hepatitis A and B.

Early detection and treatment can help reduce disease progression.

Hepatitis is not something people should take lightly, and if anyone feels they are at risk, the Michigan Department of Community Health strongly encourages them to visit their doctor.

The CDC’s online Hepatitis Risk Assessment tool can help determine if hepatitis testing and vaccination is recommended.

This tool allows you to privately enter information and receive recommendations based on CDC’s guidelines. Talk to your doctor about ways to protect your family from hepatitis and people with hepatitis should talk to their doctor about treatment options.

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread by eating food or drinking water with HAV in it or from close contact with a person who has the virus.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is spread through contact with blood or body fluids of an HBV infected person, unprotected sex, or from infected mothers to their infants at birth.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread through contact with the blood of an HCV infected person or by sharing syringes or drug equipment with someone who has HCV.

In 2012, CDC released new guidelines recommending that people born between 1945-1965 get a one-time blood test for HCV. Rates of HCV in this age group are 5 times higher than other adults as the risk of HCV infection was greater in the 1970s and 1980s.

CDC’s Know More Hepatitis initiative aims to decrease the burden of chronic Hepatitis C by increasing awareness and encouraging people to get tested. Some people with hepatitis may never show any symptoms of having the disease.

Without a blood test to confirm they are infected, they could spread the disease unknowingly to others.

According to the CDC Know More Hepatitis initiative:

What should I know about chronic Hepatitis C?

– Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus.

– About 75 percent of people who get infected with the Hepatitis C virus develop a chronic or long-term infection.

– Approximately 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C, but most don’t know they are infected.

– People with Hepatitis C often have no symptoms. Many people can live with an infection for decades without feeling sick.

– Chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.

– Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading cause of liver transplants.

– New treatments are available for Hepatitis C that can get rid of the virus.

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through:

– Blood transfusions and organ transplants. Before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992, Hepatitis C was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

– Injection drug use. Most people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. It is possible to have gotten Hepatitis C from injecting drugs, even if just once or many years ago.

– Outbreaks. While uncommon, poor infection control has resulted in outbreaks in outpatient health care and residential care facilities.

While rare, sexual transmission of Hepatitis C is possible. Having a sexually transmitted disease or HIV, sex with multiple partners, or rough sex appears to increase a person’s risk for Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C can also be spread when getting tattoos and body piercings in unlicensed facilities or with non-sterile instruments. Approximately five percent of infants born to infected mothers will get Hepatitis C. Still, some people don’t know how or when they got infected.

What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C?

Many people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have symptoms.

– Symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C can take decades to develop, although damage to the liver can silently occur during this time.

– When or if symptoms do appear, they are often a sign of serious damage to the liver.

– Symptoms for Hepatitis C can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice.

– The only way to know if you have Hepatitis C is to get specific blood tests.