July 25, 2014
Health Commissioner to Residents:
Know about Hepatitis, Know Your Status
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, one of only four World Health Organization (WHO) disease-specific days. According to WHO, nearly 400 million people are living with chronic viral hepatitis and 1 million people die each year from causes related to viral hepatitis.
Suffolk County Commissioner of Health Services James Tomarken, MD, MPH, MBA, MSW, asks Suffolk County residents to take a moment to learn about the various kinds of hepatitis, how hepatitis is transmitted, how it may be prevented and how it may possibly be treated once diagnosed.
Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E viruses. The most common types in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis A (HAV) is typically caused by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. Hepatitis A does not lead to chronic disease.
- Hepatitis B (HBV) occurs as a result of sexual contact or any contact with infected blood or body fluids.
- Hepatitis C (HCV) is spread through contact with infected blood found in contaminated needles, razors, tattoos and body piercing tools.
Immunizations are available for both hepatitis A and B. Both hepatitis B and C are blood-borne viruses that attack the liver and cause inflammation. They can be chronic and very serious.
While hepatitis A and hepatitis B can be prevented through immunization, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The risk of infection can be reduced by avoiding:
- unnecessary and unsafe injections;
- unsafe blood products;
- unsafe sharps waste collection and disposal;
- use of illicit drugs and sharing of injection equipment;
- unprotected sex with HCV-infected persons;
- sharing of sharp personal items that may be contaminated with infected blood; and
- tattoos, piercings and acupuncture performed with contaminated equipment.
The symptoms of all viral hepatitis are similar and include yellowing of the skin, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Hepatitis C is referred to as the ‘silent epidemic’ because most people have no symptoms and do not know they are infected. The disease often lies undetected for 20-30 years and is a leading cause of liver cirrhosis and liver failure.
“Chronic hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation” said Dr. Tomarken. ‘Yet most who are living with chronic hepatitis do not know they are infected and many do not even know how they were infected. We urge residents to talk to their health care providers and get tested.”
Knowing one’s infection status can prevent health problems that may result in infection and prevent transmission to family and close contacts. The most common routes of transmission for hepatitis B or C viruses are blood transfusions and blood products using unscreened blood (in most countries, but not all, blood has been screened since about 1990); medical or dental interventions without adequate sterilization of equipment; mother to infant during childbirth; sharing equipment for injecting drugs; sharing straws for snorting cocaine; sharing razors, toothbrushes or other household articles; tattooing and body piercing if done using unsterilized equipment. Hepatitis B infection can also occur as a result of unprotected sex or any exchange of body fluids with an infected person.
Suffolk County residents who think they may be at risk for either hepatitis B or C, should contact their health care providers for testing and counseling on options for treatment as well as regular monitoring for early diagnosis of chronic liver disease.
To find out more about hepatitis, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.