May has been designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month and May 19, 2015 as Hepatitis Testing Day. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in concert with all public and private healthcare providers, are working to shed light on this hidden epidemic by raising awareness of viral hepatitis and encouraging at risk populations to get tested.
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, most often caused by one of several viruses. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV), Unlike Hepatitis A, which does not cause a long-term infection, Hepatitis B and C can become chronic, lifelong infections. More than 4 Million Americans are living with Chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, but most do not know they are infected. Chronic viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems, including liver cancer. According to the CDC, at least half of the new cases of liver cancer are from chronic Hepatitis C infection. Every year 15,000 Americans die from liver cancer or chronic liver disease associated with viral hepatitis. The number of new cases of liver cancer is highest amongst Asian and Pacific Islanders and is increasing among African Americans, baby boomers and men.
Hepatitis A infections have dramatically declined in the United States over the past 20 years, due in large part to vaccination efforts. The HAV vaccine is recommended for all children starting at 1 year of age; men who have sexual contact with other men; users of IV and non-injected illegal drugs; people with chronic liver disease and people working with HAV in research laboratories.
An estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HBV infection. According to the CDC, one in 12 Asian Americans is infected with HBV, and nearly two in three do not know they are infected. Asian & Pacific Islanders make up 5% of the US population and account for more that 50% of the Americans with HBV. Although people with HBV often have no symptoms, up to 25% of people with Hepatitis B will develop serious liver problems. The CDC recommends HBV vaccination for all people born in Asia and the Pacific Islands; all infants; all children under the age of 19; people with sex partners who have HBV; sexually active people who are not in a long term monogamous relationship; people who share needles or other drug –injection equipment; healthcare workers; people with end-stage renal disease; residents of facilities for developmentally disabled persons; people with chronic liver disease; and people with HIV infection.
Hepatitis C ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious lifelong illness that attacks the liver. Many people can live with HCV fror decades without having any symptoms. Left untreated, HCV can cause serious liver damage and liver failure. Chronic HCV is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants. According to the CDC, all people born between 1945 and 1965 are five times more likely to be infected with HCV than other adults. There are an estimate 3.2 million Americans with chronic HCV. The CDC recommends that all baby boomers get tested for HCV infection. They also recommend testing for current or former injection drug users; persons treated for blood clotting problems before1987; persons who received blood transfusions before July 1992; persons with abnormal liver tests or liver disease; health care workers who are exposed to blood from aneedlestick puncture and persons with HIV.