May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by toxins, diseases, alcohol use and bacterial and viral infections. The three most common types of hepatitis are A, B and C. Hepatitis C is the most dangerous, as it’s the leading cause of liver cancer. An estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. are living with chronic hepatitis C infection, and most don’t know they are infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hepatitis A, B, and C
Each strand of hepatitis is caused by a different virus.
Hepatitis A is transmitted by the ingestion of fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts. The virus can be transmitted to other people by close person-to-person contact, sexual contact and ingestion of contaminated food or drinks. People with acute cases of hepatitis A generally recover with no lasting liver damage.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen and other body fluids. Hepatitis B can be transmitted to a baby during birth, through sexual contact and by sharing contaminated needles or other drug equipment. People with the acute disease usually recover with no lasting liver damage, although 15 to 25 percent of chronically infected people can develop serious liver diseases.
Hepatitis C is transmitted only through blood contact, typically by sharing needles or syringes. There have been some cases where hepatitis C was transmitted through childbirth and sexual contact. Statistics show that 60 to 70 percent of people chronically infected with hepatitis C will also develop chronic liver disease, and one to five percent will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer. For more detailed information about hepatitis A, B and C refer to the CDC’S ABCs of Hepatitis.
Why baby boomers are at the highest risk today
A CDC study suggested Americans in their 40s had an infection rate of three out of four people if born between 1945 and 1965. Why are baby boomers at such a higher risk? During this period of time, universal precautions and infection control procedures were just being adopted, and people had a higher risk of exposure due to contaminated medical equipment or blood transferring products. Also, some boomers’ youthful experimentation with drugs now puts them more at risk.
Why testing for hepatitis is so important
To catch the virus as early as possible, it is important to get tested and start treatment even if you show no symptoms, especially if you fall into the baby boomer age group. Hepatitis starts acutely with no symptoms and the virus slowly damages the liver. Only when the virus has advanced, and sometimes later in age, do people first start to show symptoms. It’s recommended that all baby boomers get a one-time screening.
Symptoms for hepatitis A, B and C are similar and can include:
- Bleeding and bruising easily
- Poor appetite
- Confusion and slurred speech
World Hepatitis Day
World Hepatitis Day, recognized annually on July 28, raises awareness of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C cause 80 percent of liver cancer cases in the world. Learn more about World Hepatitis Day 2017.
Hepatitis awareness in May
Throughout May, partners such as the CDC and health organizations band together to raise awareness about hepatitis testing. May 19 is Hepatitis Testing Day to encourage individuals to take the test.
Do your part this month by sharing this article with others. Also, check out @cdchep on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest facts.