Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and it’s estimated that 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis, and most don’t know they’re infected. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to learn more about this infectious disease, your risks of getting infected and to find out your status by getting tested.
What are the different types of hepatitis?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, and there are three common types of hepatitis in the United States: Hepatitis A, B, and C.
How are they different?
Hepatitis A, B, and C are caused by different viruses, affecting the liver in various ways. They have similar symptoms, however, each is spread from person-to-person differently, and the length of the infections vary.
- Hepatitis A, which is highly contagious, is most commonly spread through food or water that has been contaminated with fecal matter of an infected person, and can also be spread through person-to-person contact.
- Hepatitis B can cause both acute (short term) and chronic (lifelong) disease of the liver, and is spread by direct contact with blood or semen.
- Hepatitis C also can cause both acute and chronic disease of the liver, and can lead to scarring of the liver or liver cancer. Hepatitis C is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Most people today become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.
What’s the best way to reduce your risk of getting infected?
The most effective way to prevent getting Hepatitis A and B is to get vaccinated. For Hepatitis C, there is not a vaccine, so it’s important to look at the behaviors that may put you at risk of getting Hepatitis C. Either avoid them or learn ways to make them safer.
Who should you be tested for Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer, and millions of Americans have hepatitis C, yet almost half of the people don’t know they’re infected. People can live with hepatitis C for decades without having any symptoms or feeling sick, which is why it is so important for early detection. People born from 1945-1965 (Baby Boomers) are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C than other adults, which is why The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone born from 1945-1965 get tested. In addition to baby boomers getting testing, CDC recommends hepatitis C testing for:
- Persons currently injecting drugs
- Persons with HIV
- Person who have injected drugs, including those who injected once or a few times many years ago
- Persons who received clotting factor concentrates before 1987 or have been on long-term hemodialysis
- Persons who were recipients of transfusion or organ transplants before July, 1992
What are some of the most common symptoms?
Symptoms of Hepatitis A, B, and C can include fever, fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain and vomiting, jaundice, loss of appetite, and clay-colored bowel movements. It is important to remember that many people affected with Hepatitis C may have few to no symptoms until years later, resulting in liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death.
Are there treatment options for Hepatitis C?
Yes, Hepatitis C can be treated and in many instances can be cured with today’s drug therapies. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss the best treatment options for you.
(Note: A Closer Look at Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is a longer version of the segment that aired May 2. Join us next week!)