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Think You Don’t Need to Learn About Hepatitis? Think Again

By Florida Department of Health, Office of Communications

July 24, 2013

Your usual check-up at the doctor usually consists of a quick in-and-out procedure. You rarely ask to get tested for a disease like hepatitis—it’s not easy to contract, right?

Viral hepatitis is actually one of the most common diseases in our world today. One out of every 12 people is currently infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C. It affects approximately 400 million worldwide (4 million of which are in the US), yet many still remain unaware of the importance of testing for it.

Hepatitis is problematic because it directly targets one of our most vital organs, the liver. The liver is responsible for a number of functions throughout our bodies, and any change in its condition can affect us in innumerable ways. These functions include:

  • Breaking down and converting sugar, fat and protein into energy
  • Fighting infections
  • Filtering and removing toxins from blood
  • Storing sugar, vitamins and minerals
  • Producing substances needed for stopping excessive bleeding from cuts or injuries
  • Producing bile to help digestion of fats

If any of these functions are compromised, serious—and sometimes even fatal, consequences can occur. The key to spreading awareness about this disease is recognizing that it comes in many forms, each with its own risk and treatment.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B, which is vaccine preventable, is spread through blood and body fluids.

Hepatitis B, namely acute hepatitis B, in 9 out of 10 adults goes away on its own within six months of exposure. However, chronic hepatitis B is a long-term disease that can eventually cause liver cancer as well as liver cirrhosis. Though it is possible for acute hepatitis B to turn into chronic hepatitis B over time, it is not always the case.

If infected as an infant, 90% of those babies will develop chronic hepatitis if they are not vaccinated at birth. Since 1992, all babies in Florida are vaccinated for hepatitis B as part of their regular immunization series.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are close to 1.4 million people in the US and over 76,000 people in Florida who are currently infected with hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is passed from person to person through infected blood. Some of the most common ways it is transmitted include:

  • Receiving a blood transfusion before 1992
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
  • Sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Infants born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • Exposure to blood from needle sticks or other sharp instruments
  • Can be passed during sex, but this is not common

Chronic hepatitis C is the most severe form of this disease because it is most likely to result in long-term health problems such as liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Approximately 15,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver disease, and to date it is the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States.

According to national estimates, over 300,000 people in Florida currently live with hepatitis C. Most do not know they are infected because they have no symptoms. Unfortunately, a vaccine for this type of hepatitis has not been developed.

Symptoms and Prevention

According to the CDC, symptoms for all types of hepatitis include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes).

World Hepatitis Day serves as a reminder to all individuals that spreading awareness is the only way to reduce the overall rate of infection in this country. Vaccination for hepatitis B is the most effective form of prevention, especially at birth, since infants carry the highest risk of contracting the illness. Early detection for all Floridians is paramount to avoid life-threatening consequences stemming from hepatitis. This disease is known for its inconspicuous nature, so even if you do not exhibit symptoms, you should still get tested—in many cases, no symptoms are exhibited at all until the liver has already been damaged.

Individuals living with hepatitis are encouraged to maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Consuming alcohol, eating fatty, processed foods, smoking, extreme dieting and obesity may cause or aggravate existing liver disease. Exercising, eating fruits and vegetables as well as reducing your weight to its healthiest point are all very effective ways to combat the detrimental effects of hepatitis.

On the weekend of July 26–28, the Department of Health in several Florida counties will host outreach events offering free hepatitis B and C testing, as well as the hepatitis B vaccine for adults 18 and over. Contact your local county health department for more information.

To find out more about this disease, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s page at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/

Additional Resources