During the month of May, 2010, public health professionals throughout Tuscaloosa, West Alabama and the nation will be observing the 15th anniversary of National Hepatitis Awareness Month. May 19, 2010, will be observed around the globe as World Hepatitis Day. These times are celebrated in an effort to increase awareness and knowledge of a major, yet largely under-recognized public health problem - viral hepatitis.
Hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver and it is a term that is used to refer to a group of viral infections that affect the liver. While alcohol, toxins and certain medications can cause hepatitis, it is most commonly caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, B and C, caused by three unrelated viruses. Hepatitis A is typically an acute illness and is usually limited in duration. Hepatitis B and C, while potentially fatal, may become chronic, lifelong ailments. In the United States, approximately 4.5 million individuals are chronically infected, and many are unaware of it.
Hepatitis may be spread to others in different ways depending on which virus an individual is infected with.
- Hepatitis A is spread when a person ingests microscopic amounts of fecal matter from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces or stool from an infected person.
- Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment.
- Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment with an infected person.
Viral Hepatitis can be prevented. The best way to prevent Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, yet you can prevent Hepatitis C by not sharing needles or other equipment to inject cosmetic substances, drugs, or steroids, and by not using personal items that may have come into contact with an infected person’s blood.
For additional information on treatment or prevention visit the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention on the CDC website. Additional information may be obtained through your local County Health Department.
Visit the Birmingham Health Technology Examiner for additional articles on infectious disease and health technology.