Millions of Americans have chronic hepatitis; most of them do not know they are infected. Hepatitis is considered a viral infection since it is often caused by one of several known viruses. Since Hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common viruses in the United States, The month of May has been designated to raise awareness and encourage people at risk to take action and get tested now.
What is Hepatitis?
The word "hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis is most often caused by a virus. In the US, the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications and certain medical conditions can also cause hepatitis. The following describes the three most common types of hepatitis:
Hepatitis A is an acute liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV), lasting from a few weeks to several months. It does not lead to chronic infection.
How does it spread: Ingestion of fecal matter, from close person-to-person contact or ingestion of contaminated food or drinks.
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus. (HBV) It ranges from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks, to a serious long-term illness that can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.
How does it spread: Contact with infectious blood, semen, and other body fluids from having sex with an infected person, sharing contaminated needles to inject drugs, or from an infected mother to her newborn.
Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B can both be prevented with vaccines. The Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at increased risk. Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all infants, older children and adolescents who were not vaccinated previously, and adults at risk.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). The virus can gradually scar the liver and lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer, and is the leading cause of liver transplant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 15,000 Americans die each year from hepatitis C illnesses.
How does it spread: Contact with the blood of an infected person, primarily through sharing contaminated needles.
The CDC is proposing that all baby boomers get tested for hepatitis C. Anyone born from 1945-65 should get a one-time blood test to see if they have the liver-destroying virus. According to the CDC, Baby boomers account for more than 2 million of the 3.2 million Americans infected with the blood-borne virus.