Hepatitis B and C are infectious diseases caused by blood-borne viruses attacking the liver. They can both cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders are groups with high risk for hepatitis B and C.
The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. It is easily spread through blood and body fluids, mostly by sexual contact or injection drug use. Less frequently it is transmitted from an infected mother to her baby or between family members. Most people experience mild flu-like symptoms. Adults can usually fight off the acute infection, with only about 10 percent of cases of Hepatitis B becoming lifelong or chronic diseases. Medical treatment is available.
Who should get vaccinated? Newborns, anyone 18 or younger, and all adults who are at increased risk. Hepatitis B rates in the USA have declined 82 percent since 1992 when routine vaccination of children started.
Who should get tested? All pregnant women, all people born in high risk countries and their children who are not vaccinated, men who have sex with men, persons with multiple sexual partners within 6 months, injection drug users and persons with compromised immunity.
Hepatitis C does not have a vaccine. It is the most common blood borne infection in the USA. Presently most are infected by sharing needles, but prior to 1992 it was frequently spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Most people do not show any symptoms during acute disease. About 75-85 percent of the infected develop a chronic form of the disease. Many people do not know they are infected until many years later when liver damage is found. Medical treatment is available for chronic disease.
Prevention is to avoid risky behaviors that spread disease.
Who should get tested? Everyone who was born between 1945-1965, current or past injection drug users, HIV positive persons, health and safety workers who have needle sticks, and recipients of blood and organ prior to 1992.
For more information: Talk to your health professional, call your health department, or visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.
Rebecca Conway sits on the Lees Summit Health Education Advisory Board, a Mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.