May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness about viral hepatitis: a virus affecting millions of Americans that can cause life-threatening liver disease and liver cancer. Despite affecting so many people, most of them are unaware they have the virus. That’s why increasing awareness of risk factors and encouraging people to get tested is so important.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver. The liver carries out many vital tasks, including the distribution of nutrients within the bloodstream and filtering the blood of harmful waste and toxins. When the liver is inflamed, it is unable to do these tasks effectively. This can lead to complications, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Although hepatitis can be caused by a range of conditions like autoimmune disease or substance abuse, it is most often caused by viral hepatitis.
Types of Viral Hepatitis
The most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis A is usually transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food or close contact with a person infected with the virus. However, it can be prevented through vaccination. The vaccine is recommended for infants at 12 months of age and adults with a higher risk of infection, such as international travelers and people with increased exposure risk from work (i.e., healthcare professionals or caregivers). People who contract Hepatitis A usually make a complete recovery.
- Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infectious blood, semen and other bodily fluids. Hepatitis B infection can become chronic, and lead to serious liver disease and liver cancer. There is no cure for Hepatitis B, but there are treatments to reduce the risk of developing liver cancer. The best approach is prevention, which is available through vaccination recommended for all adults.
- Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with infectious blood. More than half of people with Hepatitis C will experience chronic infection that can lead to serious liver disease and liver cancer. Although there is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C, it is curable with medical treatment. Many people with Hepatitis C are actually asymptomatic, so getting tested is important. Screening is recommended for all adults at least once during their lifetime, with additional testing recommended for pregnant women and people at high risk.
Viral Hepatitis Statistics
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 2.4 million Americans have Hepatitis C and 850,000 have Hepatitis B. However, the actual numbers could be twice as high. More than half of the people living with viral hepatitis are unaware that they are infected. About 296 million people have Hepatitis B and 58 million have Hepatitis C worldwide, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Who is at Increased Risk for Viral Hepatitis?
- People living in areas with poor sanitation or untreated water
- People who work in occupations with an increased risk of exposure
- Those exposed to non-sterilized medical, tattoo or body-piercing equipment
- People who have close contact with someone who has the virus
- Those who had a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992
- People who engage in unprotected sex
- Illicit drug users
- International travelers
- Babies born to mothers with viral hepatitis
Getting tested is the only way to know if you have viral hepatitis. Our comprehensive team of providers is dedicated to evaluating, treating and caring for patients with viral hepatitis, along with many other liver conditions. The Liver Center at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., is the No. 2 prescriber of hepatitis medication in the United States. We also offer treatments that can cure Hepatitis C. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.