Lindsay: May is hepatitis awareness month. Viral hepatitis affects over 4.4 million Americans. Let’s start with defining hepatitis and identifying some causes.
Dr. Arnold: Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. There can be potential for serious liver damage. The three main viruses that cause hepatitis in our country are Hepatitis A, B, and C. They cause similar symptoms, but differ in the ways they are transmitted and how they affect the liver.
Lindsay: There were reports last week of a food service worker who may have exposed people to hepatitis A. Can you tell us more about that?
Dr. Arnold: Hepatitis A can be spread through food or water contaminated with fecal matter. The good news is that there is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis A available. Also, people with hepatitis A usually improve without treatment.
Lindsay: How is the transmission of hepatitis B and C different?
Dr. Arnold: Hepatitis C is usually transmitted though blood. Some examples could be sharing needles for drug use or a health care worker getting an accidental needle stick with infected blood.
Lindsay: How serious is it?
Dr. Arnold: Hepatitis B and C can become chronic, meaning that the disease stays in the body long-term. You can develop liver damage, liver cancer, or even die as a result. There is a vaccine available for prevention of hepatitis B but not currently one for hepatitis C.
Lindsay: What do you think are some misconceptions about hepatitis?
Dr. Arnold: Many people don’t realize that hepatitis may not have any symptoms. People who have been infected may be symptom free for 20 or 30 years, even though there is damage to the liver. Up to 75 percent of people who have hepatitis C don’t know that they are infected.
Lindsay: Who are some of the people who should consider being tested for hepatitis C?
Dr. Arnold: The CDC recommends that baby boomers be tested for hepatitis C. People born between 1945-1965 are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C. Also, anyone who has ever used injectable drugs, or had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, should be tested. You can talk with your health care provider about your risk factors and potential need to get tested. There have been recent advances in the treatment of hepatitis C, so it is important to get diagnosed to improve your health.