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The ABCs of Viral Hepatitis

Photo: Group of four men and women from various ethnic backgroundsKnow your Hepatitis ABCs for Hepatitis Awareness Month! Hepatitis A: Outbreaks in the US do occur. Hepatitis B: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have higher rates. Hepatitis C: New treatments can cure the disease. Learn more.

Viral hepatitis is a major global health threat and affects over 4.4 million Americans. In observance of May as Hepatitis Awareness Month and Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, here are brief overviews of each of the three most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A: Outbreaks in the US can and do occur

Hepatitis A is a virus that can spread through food or water contaminated with fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts. While this occurs most commonly in countries where Hepatitis A is common, foodborne hepatitis A outbreaks can occur in the United States as well. Contamination of the food can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking. One example was an outbreak of hepatitis A in the western United States that was linked to pomegranate seeds from Turkey. Outbreaks such as these are reminders of the importance of hepatitis A vaccination. The Hepatitis A vaccine is now recommended for all children. Of the 11 children age 18 or under who got infected during the outbreak, none had been vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and effective and is the best way to prevent getting infected with hepatitis A.

Graphic: Millions of Americans are living with viral hepatitis.

Hepatitis B: Asians and Pacific Islanders have higher rates

While Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) make up less than 5% of the total U.S. population, they account for more than 50% of Americans living with chronic hepatitis B. In fact, 1 in 12 AAPIs have hepatitis B, but most don't know they are infected. Anyone born in Asian and Pacific Island countries, or whose parents were born in these countries should get tested for Hepatitis B. Left untreated, up to 25 percent of people with hepatitis B develop serious liver problems such as cirrhosis and even liver cancer, and Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer among Asian Americans. The good news is that treatments are available that can help slow down or prevent liver damage. To learn more, take a look at the newly launched Know Hepatitis B campaign that includes multi-lingual materials.

Hepatitis C: Progress over the last 25 years has led to new treatments that can cure the disease

Twenty five years ago, the Hepatitis C virus was identified and renamed from "non-A non-B hepatitis." Much progress has been made since then. But most of those living with the virus do not know they are infected. CDC recommends that everyone born from 1945-1965, or baby boomers, get a blood test for hepatitis C. People born during these years are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C and account for more than three out of every four Americans living with the disease. CDC's Know More Hepatitis campaign was launched to educate people about the importance of getting tested. Testing everyone born during these years could identify 800,000 people unaware of their infection, and over time, could save 120,000 lives. People with Hepatitis C often have no symptoms and can live with the disease for decades without feeling sick. Even without symptoms, liver damage may be silently occurring. Fortunately, new treatments are available that can cure Hepatitis C.

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