ILLINOIS (KFVS) - May is "National Hepatitis Awareness Month," with May 19 designated as "Hepatitis Testing Day."
This month aims to raise awareness of viral hepatitis and reminds health care providers and the public about who should be tested. Millions of Americans are living with chronic hepatitis, but most do not know they are infected. Viral hepatitis is an inflammation or infection of the liver.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck is encouraging Illinoisans to learn about hepatitis, get tested and seek medical treatment if needed.
"Hepatitis viruses can be passed through blood transmission (such as by needles), through sexual contact, from mother to unborn child or by cross contamination," said Dr. Hasbrouck. "Many people were infected years or decades ago, before much was known about the viruses. If you are at risk, you should get tested."
Asian and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk for hepatitis B, but most are unaware that they are infected. Individuals born, or whose parents were born, in Asia or the Pacific Islands should talk with their physician or health care provider about getting tested for hepatitis B.
The Center for Minority Health Services is collaborating with five grantees (Asian Health Coalition, Asian Human Services, Institute for Positive Living, Midwest Asian Health Association, and Puerto Rican Cultural Center) to provide hepatitis B outreach, awareness, and education to foreign born Asian and African immigrant and refugee communities. Grantees are increasing outreach and educational efforts that address an individual's hepatitis B risk, cultural and societal issues and co-factors that result in disparities in screening and vaccination rates. In addition, grantees are providing referrals and connections to opportunities for screening, vaccination and treatment services.
Up to 75 percent of people with chronic hepatitis C infection were born during 1945-1965 (baby boomers), most of whom are unaware of their infection. As a result, they are not getting treatment or making lifestyle changes to protect their health. These individuals should get a blood test for hepatitis C. Also, anyone who had a blood transfusion before July 1992 is also at risk and should get tested.
Chronic viral hepatitis is considered to be a "silent" disease because it progresses slowly and rarely causes symptoms until decades after infection. By the time a person shows symptoms, damage to the liver has already occurred. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants. Between 2008 and 2012, there were 9,316 reported cases of chronic hepatitis B and 38,875 cases of chronic hepatitis C reported to the IDPH.
Effective treatments are available for hepatitis B and C. Advances in hepatitis C treatments offer simpler dosing, shorter treatment durations, fewer side effects, and, most importantly, higher cure rates which eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer. There are vaccines available for hepatitis A and hepatitis B to prevent these infections.
For more information about viral hepatitis, you can click here.