July 28, 2012 is World Hepatitis Day: Millions of Americans Don’t Know They have Chronic Hepatitis Infection


July 28, 2012 is World Hepatitis Day: Millions of Americans Don’t Know They have Chronic Hepatitis Infection

This week, around the world, there will be lots of concerned folk trying to get the word out to the public about the growing number of people who have been exposed and infected by the hepatitis virus but aren’t aware that they’ve been infected and are at risk for serious injury and death (from things like liver cancer) because of it.

That fun tattoo you got on vacation?  Tattoos are sometimes the source of hepatitis virus infection.  Work at a care facility where there are needles?  Big risk for exposure to a form of hepatitis.  Maybe your visit to the dentist exposed you for hepatitis, like those who just got a warning in Colorado that their dentist may have infected them.

General Public as well as Doctors, Nurses, and Health Care Pros Need to Be More Aware of Viral Hepatitis Risks

In a report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report in 2011,  one surprisingly big gap in knowledge of hepatitis running rampant in our country was among health care professionals themselves. It’s because of this, among other concerns, that there’s a worldwide Hepatitis Awareness Day this month.

What is Hepatitis?

There are different kinds of hepatitis, but all of them involve the liver: the word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver.  There are three different viruses that are all called “hepatitis” but they are unique:  there is A, B, and C.  Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are life-long infections — patients cope with them, but there’s no known cure.

Many people with chronic viral hepatitis don’t know they are infected, it can take as much as 30 years for any symptoms to show up — but all the while, the virus has been in their blood, damaging their liver.  Some will die from liver cancer caused by this virus.

Hepatitis B can be prevented by a vaccine.  If exposed to the Hepatitis B virus, there may be a short-term infection where the patient knows they are ill, and some can recover from it.  Many children who get it will not be able to clear it, though, and will have a “chronic,” or lifelong, illness.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease where those infected, up to 85%, will have to deal with it as a chronic infection.  Doctors have no cure, but they do know that a significant minority of people will recover from hepatitis C on their own (15%–25%).

Infection from hepatitis can be from bad things like drug or alcohol abuse.  It can also result from substandard care at a hospital or nursing home; from getting a tattoo; or from exposure on the job, among other things.  Just because you have taken care of yourself and been careful of you and your family does not mean that you and your loved ones are safe from this killer disease.

From NATAP, here are the major risk factors for Hepatitis A, B, and C:

HEPATITIS A

Person-to-person contact
Poor personal hygiene
Poor sanitation
Unsafe sexual practices
Employment of contact with day care centers and healthcare institutions such as nursing homes
Street drug use
HEPATITIS B

Hemodialysis
Patients of custodial institutions for developmentally disabled
Exposure to blood/blood clot products
Needle-stick injury
Sexual activity with multiple (heterosexual or homosexual) partners
IV drug use
Infants of HBV-positive mothers
Tattooing
Body piercing
HEPATITIS C

Hemophilia
Hemodialysis
Organ transplant
IV drug use
Blood transfusion prior to 1992
Needle-stick injury
Tattooing
Body piercing
Sexual activity with multiple partners

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