July 28th is World Hepatitis Day, and Physicians Immediate Care wants to do our part to provide some facts on Hepatitis and why it’s important to educate you and your loved ones.
What Is Hepatitis?
“Hepatitis” refers to an inflammation of the liver, typically caused by a virus. The group of viral infections affects the liver, the most common being Hepatitis A, B, and C.
What causes Viral Hepatitis?
All three (as well as Hepatitis D & E) are viruses, though they tend to have similar symptoms and modes of transmission from someone who is infected to someone who is not.
Hepatitis A is typically transmitted by the consumption of contaminated food or water that has come into contact with infected feces.
Hepatitis B is transmitted by bodily fluids through shared contaminated syringes, sexual intercourse with an infected person, or from mother to baby.
Hepatitis C is most often transmitted through blood from shared infected needles or contaminated drug-injection equipment.
What are the Symptoms of Viral Hepatitis?
Hepatitis A, B, and C tend to exhibit similar symptoms of fevers, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain, and jaundice.
However, a lack of these symptoms won’t necessarily mean that one isn’t affected; many individuals with Hepatitis C, for example, may not develop symptoms.
The average time for symptoms from Hepatitis A to appear is generally two to six weeks after exposure and typically last for around two months.
Hepatitis B symptoms usually appear three months from exposure but can range anywhere from six weeks to six months.
Hepatitis C symptoms tend to occur six to seven weeks after exposure but can appear up to six months after exposure.
In all cases, the virus can still be spread even if no symptoms are present.
How Many People Are Affected?
It’s difficult to determine, as one of the dangers of Hepatitis is that many infected individuals may not know they’re infected. In fact, the World Hepatitis Alliance estimates that only about 20% of Hepatitis C-infected individuals and 9% of Hepatitis B-infected individuals worldwide actually know they’re infected.
Nevertheless, it’s reasonably speculated that approximately 325 million people live with viral hepatitis, with Hepatitis B affecting over 257 million people worldwide, or 3.5% of the population. Hepatitis C affects 71 million people, or 1%, of the world population. Over 1.34 million deaths per year are due to hepatitis.
In 2014 in the US, it was estimated that there were 2,500 infections, which was down considerably from peak highs in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Fortunately, the incidence of Hepatitis A has declined 95% since 1995, when a vaccine for it became available. Today, Hepatitis A deaths in the US tend to be fewer than 100.
Hepatitis B and C, however, are estimated to affect nearly 14 million Americans. The CDC speculates that Hepatitis B claims nearly 3,000 lives in the US each year, and, last year, the CDC reported that Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease, reaching an all-time high of 19,659 deaths in 2014.
Am I at Risk?
If you feel you’re at risk, you should always consult your doctor. The CDC also recommends that individuals who have had sexual contact with someone infected with Hepatitis A or B be tested. Individuals born between 1945 and 1965 are recommended to contact a healthcare provider to be tested for Hepatitis C. A complete listing of who may be at risk can be found at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.
How Can It Be Prevented?
The recommended method of prevention for Hepatitis A and B is vaccination. Both are safe and effective in combating the disease – even for children. The Hepatitis B vaccine is now fairly common throughout the US and usually consists of three or four shots over six months, with the first dose typically delivered at birth, but can be started at any time.
At this time, the CDC reports no vaccination for Hepatitis C, however, it is being researched.
Additional prevention of Hepatitis A is frequent hand washing. And, to avoid the risk of Hepatitis B and C infections from blood spills, the CDC recommends cleaning up spills with one part household bleach to 10 parts water (and gloves).
How Can It Be Treated?
Hepatitis A tends to resolve on its own, and the CDC does not report any special treatments.
Similarly, the CDC reports no medication available for Hepatitis B treatment, though it notes that rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids are recommended.
An acute infection of Hepatitis C can clear itself about 25% of the time. There are also a number of FDA-approved treatments for both acute and chronic Hepatitis C.
Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of Hepatitis, but there’s always more to learn, and education is one of the most powerful weapons in combating Hepatitis. Share this article with others, and ensure that you’ve had your Hepatitis B vaccination by visiting your local Physicians Immediate Care Clinic. Most of all, have a safe and educational World Hepatitis Day!