Mind and Body: May is Hepatitis Awareness Month

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by different things such as fatty liver disease and cirrhosis, but three viruses attack the liver and cause illness.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) wants people to know the ABC’s of Hepatitis:

— Hepatitis A (HAV) is spread through microscopic amounts of stool from infected individuals that have close person-to-person contact, sexual contact, the sharing of needles in IV drug use, and the ingestion of contaminated food and drinks. Persons at risk are those that travel to regions of the world with high HAV rates, sexual contact with a HAV positive person, sharing needles with an infected person or persons with some blood clotting disorders. HAV is only treated symptomatically and usually resolves with no lasting liver damage, but can make an individual very ill, and can be life-threatening for individuals with other underlying conditions and illnesses. A vaccine for HAV was developed in the mid-90’s and is now part of Kentucky’s required vaccinations for children entering school.

— Hepatitis B (HBV) is spread through infected blood, semen, and other bodily fluids. Infection can occur from mother to her unborn baby, sexual contact with an infected person, the sharing of needles and equipment when using IV drugs, and health care needlestick injuries. A vaccine for HBV was developed in the 1980s and has been given to health care workers and children for almost three decades now. Those at risk would be persons born before the early ‘90s, individuals not vaccinated and participating in risky behaviors such IV drug use and unprotected sex, unvaccinated health care workers, and babies born to HBV infected mothers. Some medications have been successful in treating HBV, but often supportive care is all that is given. An individual may not have symptoms until they have liver damage years after being exposed.

— Hepatitis C (HCV) is spread mainly through sharing HCV contaminated needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment. However, it can be spread much like HBV through sexual contact with an HBV positive individual or from an infected mother to her unborn child. Unlike HBV, there is no vaccination against HCV, but there are more medications available to treat HCV infection.

All hepatitis viruses have long incubation periods meaning a person can be infected and not start showing symptoms for a long time. The signs and symptoms of all hepatitis viruses are similar and can include one or more of the following: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gray-colored bowel movements, joint pain, or jaundice (yellowing of a person’s skin and eyes)

Individuals with HAV typically show signs and symptoms within 15 to 50 days of exposure and then seek medical care. HBV and HCV are a little trickier to diagnose, and the CDC recommends that all persons who have never been tested and born between the early to mid1940s through the early to mid1960s (the Baby Boomer generation) have a one-time test to know their status. Individuals with other risk factors such as IV drug use and unsafe sex practices should be tested on a routine base. This year, May 19 is National Hepatitis Testing Day, and everyone should assess their risk factors and be tested accordingly.

Please contact the Clark County Health Department for questions regarding hepatitis vaccinations or testing at 744-4482.

Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family, including WIC, HANDS, family planning, well child care/immunizations and home health care. For more information, call 744-4482 or go to www.clarkhealthdept.org. You can also “like” us on Facebook.

Information is taken from www.cdc.gov/hepatitis