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Viral hepatitis a silent epidemic

May 31, 2012
The Daily News

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.

As May is observed as 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.

"Viral hepatitis is known to cause liver cancer and chronic liver disease; conditions that nearly 15,000 Americans die from every year," said Dr. Dean Sienko, interim chief medical executive at MDCH. "Hepatitis is not something people should take lightly, and if anyone feels they are at risk, we strongly encourage them to visit their doctor."

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

Hepatitis C can be cured, and all forms of hepatitis are treatable.

- Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread by eating food or drinking water with HAV in it or by contact with fecal matter from persons who have 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. People may already have HCV if they received blood, blood products or had an organ transplant before 1992 or received clotting factor produced before 1987.

CDC's Know More Hepatitis initiative aims to decrease the burden of chronic Hepatitis C by increasing awareness and encouraging people to get tested.

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

People with clotting problems who took blood products prior to 1987 were also exposed to Hepatitis C. Sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs was and is a very efficient way to transmit the virus. People have also become infected with the Hepatitis C virus from body piercing or tattoos that were gotten in prisons, at home or in other unlicensed or informal facilities.

Although uncommon, outbreaks of Hepatitis C have occurred from blood contamination in health care settings. In rare cases, Hepatitis C may be sexually transmitted.

Babies born to mothers with Hepatitis C can get the infection during childbirth. Some people do not know how or when they became infected.

Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact, kissing, hugging, sneezing, coughing, breastfeeding or sharing food, eating utensils or glasses.

Many people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected.

Symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C can take up to 30 years to develop. When symptoms do appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease.

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

Hepatitis C is treated with medications, called antivirals, are used to treat many people with chronic Hepatitis C.

Treatment is now being improved, for many, with the addition of other medications to the standard antiviral treatment.

However, not everyone needs or can benefit from treatment. It is important to be checked by a doctor experienced in treating chronic Hepatitis C.

He or she can determine the most appropriate medical care. Decisions about starting treatment are based on many factors, such as the type of virus, the condition of the liver, and other health conditions.

To protect your liver, you can:

- Ask your doctor before taking any prescription, over-the-counter medications, supplements or vitamins. For instance, some drugs, such as certain pain medications, can potentially damage the liver

- Avoid alcohol since it can increase the speed of liver damage

- Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B.

The CDC's online Hepatitis Risk Assessment tool at, 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.



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