TERRE HAUTE —
Viral hepatitis is a silent epidemic that affects more than four million Americans. In 2011, more than 6,000 cases were reported in Indiana, including the most common types — hepatitis A, B and C. Residents are encouraged to learn more about hepatitis and how to protect themselves.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation.
Most individuals who have viral hepatitis are not aware of it. Knowledge of the disease and its risks are essential to improve screening and testing, which can reduce illness and death from hepatitis. State health officials are encouraging people to take action to increase awareness and take the initiative to get tested.
“Hepatitis can be a serious illness leading to liver disease and liver cancer,” said State Health Commissioner William VanNess, M.D. “Talk to your health care provider about vaccination and testing.”
n Hepatitis A is spread through ingestion of fecal matter (stool) of an infected individual.
n Hepatitis B and C are spread through contact with infected blood. Hepatitis B is also commonly spread from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth. Common modes of transmission for both diseases include intravenous drug use and sharing of contaminated needles, including those used for tattoos and body piercing, and other injection drug equipment. Although there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, there are vaccines for both hepatitis A and B.
Symptoms of hepatitis A, B and C include nausea, anorexia, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice and dark urine. However, it may also show no symptoms or very mild symptoms that can be mistaken for another illness.
Up to 75 percent of people infected with hepatitis C do not know they have it. Laboratory testing is the only way to know for certain if someone has viral hepatitis, and what kind.
While anyone can get hepatitis C, more than 75 percent of adults infected are baby boomers, those born from 1945 to 1965.
Treatments are available that can eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer.
Getting tested can help people learn if they are infected and get them into life-saving care and treatment.
This one test can help protect the health of Americans from liver disease and potentially save thousands of lives.
Christina Keller is a health educator for the Vigo County Health Department.