Take steps to prevent hepatitis

With this past Saturday having been designated as World Hepatitis Day, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reminded residents how they can help avoid contracting viral hepatitis.

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. The most common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. According to World Health Organization, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015, a number comparable to deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined.

The hepatitis A virus is found in the feces — also known as “poop” or pick your own alternative word — of people with hepatitis A. It can spread through contaminated food or water and through close contact with anyone who has the virus. Hepatitis A outbreaks are increasing nationally, including Michigan, where as of this past Wednesday, 865 cases have been reported in the state, with 27 deaths.

Hepatitis A symptoms can include: nausea and vomiting; belly pain; feeling tired; fever; loss of appetite; yellowing of the skin and eyes; dark urine; pale-colored feces; and joint pain.

Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease and MDHHS encourages HAV vaccination for at-risk individuals, including those with a history of injection and non-injection drug use, homelessness or transient housing, incarceration and men who have sex with men.The hepatitis A vaccine is considered safe and effective and is available through local health care providers and at local health departments.

Practicing good hand washing practices; not sharing personal items such as towels, toothbrushes and eating utensils; and avoiding sex with infected partners also are ways to prevent getting infected.

“Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against the hepatitis A virus,” said Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS chief medical executive. “Washing your hands well with soap and warm water can help stop the spread of this disease.”

Hepatitis B is transmitted from person to person through contaminated blood or body fluids. HBV can spread from infected mothers to their infants at birth, through unprotected sex or through contact with blood or body fluids of a person who has the virus. Getting the HBV vaccination is the most effective way to prevent hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne pathogen; however, unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine available for HCV. HCV is transmitted from person to person through the contaminated blood of an individual who is infected. The primary risk factor for HCV transmission is sharing needles, syringes or drug preparation equipment.

People can live with hepatitis B and C for decades without experiencing any symptoms or feeling sick, the MDHHS advised. The only way to determine a hepatitis infection is through a blood test. Early detection, care and treatment can help slow disease progression. HCV treatments cure more than 90 percent of persons living with HCV.

For more information about hepatitis, go to Michigan.gov/hepatitis or Cdc.gov/hepatitis. For more information on the hepatitis A outbreak in Michigan, go to Michigan.gov/hepAoutbreak.