MAYVILLE, N.Y.:-- Hepatitis is a serious liver disease that affects millions of Americans. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, and it is most often caused by viral infections. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn more about the different types of viral hepatitis.
The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Although each can produce similar symptoms, each hepatitis virus affects the liver differently, follows a different route of entry into the body, and affects different people.
Chautauqua County Director of Health and Human Services Christine Schuyler said, “Vaccines are available to prevent infection from hepatitis A and B; however, there is not a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Hepatitis C infection is prevented by avoiding direct contact with blood.”
Hepatitis A is highly contagious; symptoms can be mild and last a few weeks to severe and last several months. The hepatitis A virus is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person.
A prime risk factor for hepatitis A is traveling to or living in a country with high infection rates. Men who have sexual contact with other men and intravenous (IV) drug users are also at risk. Hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine; it is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk; it is given as two shots, six months apart; it is safe and highly effective in preventing the viral infection.
The hepatitis B virus causes infection that can lead to a lifelong illness and is the leading cause of liver cancer.
“About two in three people with hepatitis B don’t know they are infected,” said Schuyler. “The B virus is spread primarily when blood, semen, or certain other body fluids from an infected person enter the body of a person who is not infected. It can be spread through unprotected sex and through blood contact, such as sharing needles during IV drug use. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.”
Anyone can get hepatitis B, but people who have multiple sex partners or use IV drugs have a higher risk. Other risk factors include being a health care worker who is exposed to blood, or living with someone who has chronic hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is also easily prevented with a safe vaccine which is recommended for all infants at birth and for others who may be at risk. It is usually given as a series of three or four shots over a six-month period and provides 90 percent protection to those immunized before being exposed.
Hepatitis C is also highly contagious through contact with blood and can cause long-lasting and serious liver problems. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs. Getting a tattoo or piercing with an infected needle will also put you at risk. While rare, hepatitis C can be transmitted sexually, as well as from an infected mother to her baby.
In the past, prior to 1992, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply has virtually eliminated the hepatitis C virus from the blood supply. People born from 1945-1965, or baby boomers, are five times more likely to have hepatitis C.
About 25 percent of people who get hepatitis C will defeat the virus after a short-term infection. The rest will carry the virus in their bodies for the long term. Chronic hepatitis C can cause liver failure and liver cancer. There is no vaccine available to prevent hepatitis C, but it can be treated with medication.
“Anyone born from 1945-1965, as well as anyone else at risk, should get tested for hepatitis C,” said Schuyler.
The Chautauqua County Department of Health offers hepatitis C testing for anyone at risk. To set up an appointment, or for more information about this disease, call 1-866-604-6789.
For additional information, and to take a five-minute hepatitis risk assessment developed by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) and get a personalized report, visit https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment/index.htm .