Did you know that hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, can be caused by a virtual alphabet of different viruses? It's a major reason the World Hepatitis Alliance, working in partnership with the World Health Organization, recognized the sixth annual World Hepatitis Day on Sunday, July 28, 2013. The main themes for this year were "This is hepatitis. Know it. Confront it," and "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil."
Hepatitis is a silent epidemic. In the U.S., the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. As of 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nationwide, approximately 4.4 million people have chronic hepatitis B and C infections. In Indiana in 2010, 12 cases of hepatitis A, 75 cases of hepatitis B, and more than 6,000 cases of hepatitis C were reported.
"Hepatitis can be a serious illness leading to liver disease and liver cancer," said Joan Duwve, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at the Indiana State Department of Health. "The good news is that testing for hepatitis is simple. Knowing your status can help prevent serious complications of infection and stop the further spread of disease to others."
Hepatitis A is spread through ingestion of contaminated food or water, while hepatitis B and C are both spread through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. Common modes of transmission for hepatitis B and C include the spreading of the infection from mother to child during childbirth, intravenous drug use, reusing contaminated needles, including those used for tattoos, body piercing, home blood sugar testing, and injection of drugs. Thankfully, there are safe and effective vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B, and treating babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis B within hours of delivery greatly reduces the likelihood that they will become infected.
Protect yourself against infection with hepatitis C by avoiding risk factors like reusing needles. Other risk factors for hepatitis C include having HIV (since HIV and hepatitis C are transmitted in similar ways), receiving body piercing or tattoos with non-sterile instruments and sex with partners already infected with hepatitis C.
Most Americans with hepatitis B and C are unaware they are infected with serious liver infections until they begin to have complications from their infections. State health officials are encouraging Hoosiers to take action to increase viral hepatitis by talking with your doctor about risk factors, getting tested and getting vaccinated. State health officials recommend a one-time hepatitis blood test for everyone between the ages of 48 and 68. There are treatments available for both hepatitis B and C, and knowing your hepatitis status can help prevent ongoing spread of disease. Visit your health care provider and ask about testing.