Hepatitis: What to know
Posted on 05/31/2022

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time to learn about this liver-damaging disease and how to protect yourself and those you love. The liver is one of the most important organs in our body, not only does it remove or neutralize toxins, but it helps us digest food, absorb nutrients and create specific clotting factors our bodies need to heal. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver; this inflammation makes it hard for the liver to do its job and if not treated, it can cause liver damage.

The most common types of hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The last two types of hepatitis (B and C) are the leading causes of liver cancer in the United States.  

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A can be prevented with a vaccine. The virus that causes hepatitis A is found in fecal stool and blood. It spreads easily when people share food or drinks or have close contact with a person who has it. Often, people spread the virus before they know they are infected. Many who get hepatitis A feel sick for a few weeks but recover without long-term liver damage.

You are most at risk for hepatitis A if you:

  • Use drugs, including non-injected drugs. 
  • Experience homelessness. 
  • Are a man who has sex with men. 
  • Travel to a country where hepatitis A is common. 

A safe, effective vaccine preventing hepatitis A was released in 1996 and hepatitis A rates decreased more than 95% by 2011. Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed a jump in reported cases more recently. If you are at risk for hepatitis A, contact a pharmacy or healthcare provider to get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B & C

Hepatitis B and C are blood borne infections, that is, they are spread when an infected person’s blood, semen or other body fluid enters another person’s body. Luckily, for those who receive a blood transfusion or organ and tissue transplantation, the possibility of getting Hep B and C is almost eliminated, thanks to screening procedures that began in 1992.

Hepatitis B commonly spreads through: 

  •  Sharing needles or syringes. 
  •  Sexual contact. 
  •  Mother–to–child during birth. 

Hepatitis B is common around the world, especially Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. More than 60% of people carrying Hepatitis B do not even know they have it. Thankfully, you can protect against Hepatitis B by getting vaccinated against the virus causing the disease.

Since the 1990s, children have been routinely vaccinated for hepatitis B at birth. If you are age 19-59 years and are not vaccinated, you should get the vaccine. 

The virus causing hepatitis C most often spreads when people share needles or other drug equipment. Before 1990, a large number of people got hepatitis C from blood transfusions and procedures. Many people with hepatitis C do not feel sick, but if left untreated it can become a chronic disease causing severe liver damage. If you are pregnant or at least 18 years old, health professionals recommend contacting your provider and testing for hepatitis C. With the development of Direct Acting Anti-Viral treatment, the Hepatitis C viral load can be brought down so much that the patient is virtually cured.

Investigation of Children with Acute Hepatitis

More recently some children under the age of 10 years have developed hepatitis and this is being investigated with a possible link to a type of virus that causes flu or cold like symptoms called adenovirus. The source is still unclear as doctors and scientist are looking for the cause. Stay tuned…

Stay informed to keep yourself and those around you safe and healthy. Contact your health care provider or pharmacy to learn more about hepatitis testing, vaccination and treatment. To stay up to date with the latest health news in your community visit www.BFHD.wa.gov or follow up on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.