FRANKFORT, Ky. (5/15/14) — Each May, public health officials around the country work to raise awareness about the health impact of viral hepatitis, a significant but often under recognized public health concern.
In addition, May 19 has been designated as National Hepatitis Testing Day in the United States as an added measure to help educate the public about the disease and promote the importance of screening.
In the U.S., viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation.
“Viral hepatitis is a very serious health concern which often can go undetected because chronically infected persons may not be obviously ill initially,” said Kraig Humbaugh, M.D., senior deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “We want Kentuckians to be aware of the dangers of the condition and be able to assess their risk of contracting hepatitis. As is the case with many forms of illness, if caught early, hepatitis is more treatable and less likely to lead to complications. So it’s important to determine if you have risk factors and be tested if you fall into a high-risk category.”
Defined as inflammation of the liver, hepatitis is most typically caused by the hepatitis A, hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses. The condition can also be the result of exposure to toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use and other bacterial or viral infections.
Millions of Americans have chronic viral hepatitis; most of them do not know they are infected. According to DPH, an estimated 1 percent of the population in the United States has chronic hepatitis C.
Age and certain demographics are important to consider in assessing risk for hepatitis C. Baby boomers, individuals born between 1945 and 1965, comprise an estimated 27 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, they account for approximately three-fourths of all hepatitis C virus infections in the country; they make up 73 percent of HCV-associated mortality; and are at greatest risk for a form of cancer related to HCV and other HCV-related liver disease.
In addition, individuals with risk factors for chronic hepatitis, like injection drug use, can have rates of chronic hepatitis 30 percent or higher, depending upon the duration of drug use.
“It’s important for everyone to be aware of the dangers of hepatitis and assess their risk of contracting the disease,” said Robert Brawley, M.D., Infectious Disease branch manager, DPH. “For follow-up hepatitis testing, we recommend that individuals contact their health care provider to schedule an appointment or get more information.”
Public health officials encourage everyone to learn more about the disease and recommend researching the ABCs of Viral Hepatitis, a one-page fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C virus infections, http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/ABC-Viral-Hepatitis.pdf.
In addition, the public is encouraged to take an anonymous five-minute online hepatitis risk assessment, http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/RiskAssessment/. This assessment, also from the CDC, is designed to determine an individual’s risk for viral hepatitis. The assessment asks questions based upon CDC’s guidelines for hepatitis testing and vaccination. A personalized report can be printed and shared with an individual’s medical provider.DPH also stresses the importance of being immunized. Currently, there are effective vaccines for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Information provided by Beth Fisher
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