The ABCs of Hepatitis
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. We hear about hepatitis, and we know it’s bad, but do we know what it is? Do we know how it is spread and do we know enough to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? Let’s start with some basics. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections, so if it is inflamed, these things can be affected. Things such as alcohol use, some medications and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis. However, it is usually caused by a virus. In the United States, we classify the most common types of viral hepatitis as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
There is an effective vaccine against hepatitis A that is part of a child’s recommended vaccine schedule between 12-23 months. For those who are infected, most recover with no lasting liver damage. To prevent infection, make sure you and your loved ones are vaccinated and that you wash your hands frequently. If you do not have symptoms, you do not need to be tested.
There is also an effective vaccine against hepatitis B that is part of a child’s recommended vaccine schedule before they turn 2 years old. If a person becomes infected, there are some treatments available. However, hepatitis B can become a chronic condition leading to liver cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. The best protection against hepatitis B is vaccination and avoiding situations where blood or other body fluids can transfer from an infected person including sharing a toothbrush, razor, syringes/other injection equipment, or unprotected sex.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for around 80% of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious, even life-threatening, health problems like liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid behaviors that can spread the disease, like injecting drugs, getting tattoos or piercings from an unlicensed facility, or sharing razors. Speak to your health care provider about getting tested for hepatitis C, because treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.
SRHD is actively working to prevent hepatitis in our community in a variety of ways. Hepatitis A is reported to SRHD, and staff take measures to contain the spread through case investigations and work with community partners when outbreaks occur. For either Hepatitis A or B, SRHD encourages vaccination as the best way to prevent infection. Visit our free vaccine location site if you or your children still need these important vaccinations. SRHD also runs a needle exchange program where anyone can get clean needles and other equipment as a harm reduction approach to preventing the spread of hepatitis C. In addition, SRHD provides case management for people seeking hepatitis C treatment.On this year’s World Hepatitis Day, we can all take action to help eliminate this disease. Make sure everybody in your household is up to date on their vaccinations, seek out testing if you think you might have been exposed, and use prevention measures like washing hands, not sharing personal items, and cleaning appropriately. Together, we can protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community from the effects of hepatitis.