Do you have hepatitis C, a potentially deadly viral disease? Do you know if you are more likely to have it than someone else? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now has a free, five-minute online assessment that can tell you if you are at risk. To take the simple test, go to www.cdc.gov/HEPATITIS/riskassessment
There are different types of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis A and B can be prevented with vaccines and hepatitis C can often be cured if diagnosed and treated early. It’s important for individuals, particularly baby boomers, to know if they have any form of hepatitis.
“Baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other U.S. residents,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Even more alarming are data from the CDC that show three out of four hepatitis C deaths are baby boomers. By taking the simple CDC risk assessment, you can learn if you should see your medical provider for testing. If you have hepatitis, early care and treatment for this usually silent disease could save your life.”
Millions of people unknowingly are infected with hepatitis C or other variants of the disease as a result of exposure, even decades ago, to another person’s blood or certain body fluids; transfusion of infected blood; or sharing of needles or drug use paraphernalia such as straws used in snorting drugs. The CDC issued updated guidance on hepatitis C this month, saying testing all baby boomers is critical to stem the increasing toll of death and disease from hepatitis C in this nation.
While there are many variants of hepatitis, all involve either temporary or long-term inflammation of the liver. The three most common viral types are A, B and C. According to the CDC, more than 75 percent of adults with hepatitis C are baby boomers, those individuals born between 1945 and 1965. The CDC estimates one in 30 baby boomers is infected due to past exposure and has no idea he or she has a potentially deadly illness.
“Though hepatitis B and C are the most serious types in the United States, everyone should have an understanding of the different variants, including how they are caused and how they can be prevented,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “If you have any form of chronic hepatitis, you need to change behaviors to protect your liver. We recommend you stop drinking alcohol, stop smoking and have a conversation with your physician before taking any medications.”
Brief overviews of the more common forms of viral hepatitis in the U.S. include:
Hepatitis A: Usually caused by the inadvertent ingestion of fecal matter from close contact with others or from contaminated food or drinks. It does not cause chronic infection and the hepatitis A vaccination can prevent you from getting it.
Hepatitis B: Usually caused by infected blood, semen or other body fluids resulting from unprotected sex; sharing contaminated needles or straws to snort drugs; or passed on from a mother to her newborn. Illness can range from short and mild to serious and long-term. It can lead to liver disease or liver cancer. Hepatitis B vaccination can prevent you from getting it.
Hepatitis C: Usually caused by contact with blood of an infected person, often through sharing of contaminated needles or straws to snort drugs, or a long ago transfusion of blood or blood product. It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis B and C can live for many years, even decades, in the body without causing any symptoms. They may destroy the liver gradually, with no major symptoms, and for many individuals the diagnosis comes too late.
“Do yourself a favor and take the assessment online,” said Dreyzehner. “Have a conversation with your medical professional about your risks, your present condition and what preventive or treatment options might be best for you. If you have hepatitis of any kind, early treatment is important for you and others.”
For additional information about hepatitis, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/