May is Hepatitis Awareness Month
Hepatitis A is spread by close contact with infected persons or through contaminated food and water. Good personal hygiene, proper sanitation, vaccination, and immune globulin can help prevent hepatitis A.
Hep B and Hep C are viruses that multiply in the liver causing inflammation. Chronic viral hepatitis is considered to be a “silent” disease because it progresses slowly and rarely causes symptoms until decades after infection. By the time a person shows symptoms, the damage to the liver can be serious. Unfortunately, it is estimated that up to 75 percent of those with chronic viral hepatitis don’t know they have it and aren’t getting treatment or making the lifestyle changes necessary to protect their livers. The consequences of this are starting to show as the death rate from Hep C surpassed the death rate for HIV in 2007.
Learn more from CDC’s Know More Hepatitis resources.
Baby boomers and hepatitis C
A national study has found that nearly 69 percent of all Hep C cases are diagnosed among baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965). New Hep C infections greatly increased in the 1960s and ‘70s before peaking in the 1980s and, as a result, baby boomers now make up approximately two-thirds of Hep C cases in the U.S.
The reason that baby boomers have the highest rates of Hepatitis C is not completely understood. Most boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of Hepatitis C were the highest. Since chronic Hepatitis C can go unnoticed for up to several decades, baby boomers could be living with an infection that occurred many years ago. Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Many baby boomers could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992 and universal precautions were adopted. Others may have become infected from injecting drugs, even if only once in the past. Still, many baby boomers do not know how or when they were infected.
Additional Risk Factors for hepatitis C
Others who should be tested for Hep C are those who had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992; those who ever injected drugs, even if only once a long time ago; people with HIV; people on hemodialysis; people who have been exposed to blood on the job such as through a needle stick; and those who have had a non-professional tattoo or piercing.
Foreign born and hepatitis B
Hep B is more common in people who live in or were born in certain areas of the world such as Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Haiti, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, South America’s Amazon Basin, rural Alaska, and Hawaii. People from these areas are more often infected at birth or in early childhood and develop a lifelong, chronic infection. If you, your parents, or your children were born in any of these places, talk to your medical provider about a hepatitis B test.
Additional Risk Factors for hepatitis B
Others who should be tested for Hep B include those with sexual or household contacts who are infected with Hep B; men who have sex with men; people who use injection drugs; all pregnant women; people with HIV; people on hemodialysis; and people on chemotherapy or other immunosuppressant drugs.
For questions about chronic viral hepatitis, visit the Ohio Department of Health’s Adult Viral Hepatitis website