By Andrew Solomon

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Are you at risk for Hepatitis?

The Boston Public Health Commission observes Hepatitis Awareness Month in May!

Hepatitis is the inflammation or swelling of your liver and can be caused by one of many viruses. Most common viruses in the United States include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Learn more about each strain below.

Most people with hepatitis will experience no symptoms, but some hepatitis viruses can lead to serious and life threatening liver damage. Those who do have symptoms from hepatitis may experience fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, grey stool, joint pain, stomach pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes). Hepatitis viruses differ in how they are spread, prevented, treated, and whether they lead to long-term (chronic) disease.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food and sexual contact. In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated there were 25,000 new hepatitis A cases in the United States. Those at greatest risk of getting hepatitis A include people who live with an infected person, caregivers of infected persons, sexual partners of infected persons, and those who travel to countries where hepatitis A is common. Specific treatment is not available for hepatitis A, but a person will feel better after rest, plenty of fluids, and good nutrition. The CDC recommends vaccination for hepatitis A for children and adults (if not already vaccinated). Frequent hand washing can also help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. In 2007, the CDC estimates there were 43,000 new hepatitis B cases in the United States. Those at greatest risk for hepatitis B includes anyone exposed to an infected person by sharing needles, toothbrushes, or razors, sexual contact with an infected person, contact with infected blood through an open sore or cut, or from mother to child during pregnancy or birth. Long-term infection with hepatitis B can lead to severe liver damage, including scaring, liver cancer, and liver failure. Most people with Hepatitis B will get better without treatment. No treatment is available to prevent lifelong (chronic) infection, but some medicine may be available to treat chronic infection. The CDC recommends vaccination for all newborn children and adults (if not already vaccinated).

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through contact with infected blood. In 2009, the CDC estimated there were 16,000 new hepatitis C cases in the United States. Those at greatest risk for hepatitis C include current and former injection drug users, those who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, or those who have shared tattooing or body piercing needles. Hepatitis C also can develop into chronic disease and lead to serious liver damage.  Treatment is available for chronic hepatitis C, but does not work in all people. There is not a vaccine to protect against hepatitis C. Testing for hepatitis is strongly recommended for current or past injection drug users and anyone born from 1945-1965.

If you are concerned that you have been exposed to hepatitis A, B, or C, contact your health care provider. Your health care provider can provide vaccination for hepatitis A and B or testing for hepatitis A, B, and C.

For more information on hepatitis, call the BPHC Infectious Disease Bureau at (617) 534-5611 or visit www.bphc.org.

Andrew is project manager in the Infectious Disease Bureau’s office of education and outreach.

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