4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis – and half don’t know it

hepatitis awarenessIt has been estimated that more than 4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis. Many (some say more than half) don’t know they have the infectious disease. Without testing and treatment, they could develop liver damage, or worse. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to learn about your risks of being infected by this disease, and to find out your status by getting tested.

What are the different types of hepatitis?

The three most common types of hepatitis in the United States are Hepatitis A, B, and C.

How are they different?

Hepatitis A, B, and C are caused by different viruses, each affecting the liver in various ways. They have similar symptoms, but each is spread differently from person-to-person, and the length of the infections vary.

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Let’s go through the types in a little more detail.

  • 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 can also 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.

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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. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, so it’s important to look at the behaviors that may put you at risk of getting hepatitis C and either avoid them or learn how to make them safer.

Who should be tested for Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer. People can live with hepatitis C for decades without knowing they have it, which is why it is so important to get tested. People born from 1945-1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone born during that timeframe get tested. CDC also recommends hepatitis C testing for:

  • Anyone who injects drugs.
  • Everyone with HIV.
  • People who have injected drugs, even if it was just once or a few times many years ago.
  • People who received clotting factor concentrates before 1987 or have been on long-term hemodialysis.
  • Anyone who received a transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.

If you need a little prompting to get tested, May 19 is National Hepatitis Testing Day!

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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. 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?

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.

A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on KBOI AM 670; this is the transcript for the April 24, 2018 program. 

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