Did you know the month of May is Hepatitis Awareness month? Did you also know that over 4.5 million people in the United States are living with chronic viral hepatitis and that an alarming 80,000 new infections occur each year? How easily is the disease transmitted? Are you at risk? These are the same questions I started asking myself when my daughter came home from school and told me one of her classmates had been diagnosed with the disease.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver usually caused by a virus that infects the liver. There are several types of hepatitis, but Hepatitis A, B, and C are the most prevalent in the United States. About 3 million Americans are infected with Hepatitis C alone, making it the most common chronic infection spread through the blood. You can also contract hepatitis through drug or alcohol use and by having certain medical conditions.
Since hepatitis is only spread through contact with an infected person’s blood, it is not easily transmitted through routine daily contact. You cannot catch viral hepatitis from someone coughing, sneezing, hugging, kissing, or sharing food, utensils or glasses with you. However, you can expose yourself to hepatitis if you share common household items such as nail clippers, razors, or toothbrushes with an infected person. Additionally, simple tasks such as disposing of sanitary napkins, tampons, bloody tissues or used bandages can put you at risk for exposing yourself to the infected person’s blood.
Another source of common infection is through drug use. It is not atypical for the youth of today to share everything, including needles. Even if you don’t inject drugs, you can also be exposed if you get a tattoo which is applied using a needle. In rare instances, viral hepatitis can be transmitted through sexual intercourse and there is also a 5% chance of pregnant women passing the disease to their child during birth.
The most dangerous thing about having viral hepatitis is that many people do not know they even have the disease. It is not uncommon for a person to show no symptoms of the disease, providing a false sense that they are healthy. The bad news is that while they are unaware a problem exists; the disease may still be damaging their liver. It can take as long as 30 years for symptoms to develop and by this time the damage has been done. Viral hepatitis is the primary cause of liver cancer the most frequent reason a liver transplant is needed.
If you don’t remember anything else from this article, remember three important facts about viral hepatitis. First, both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are viral types of the disease and can lead to chronic, life-long infections. Second, many people that have the disease do not even know they are infected. Third, chronic viral hepatitis can lead to liver cancer. It is important that you know everything you need to about hepatitis.