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Hepatitis Awareness Month

Logo: Hepatitis Awareness MonthMay is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and May 19 is Hepatitis Testing Day. Find out if you should be tested or vaccinated for hepatitis by taking a 5-minute online Hepatitis Risk Assessment.

"Hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that plays many roles essential to good health. It processes nutrients, filters the blood, and helps fight infections. When the liver becomes inflamed, its function can be affected. Many things can cause hepatitis, including heavy alcohol use, certain toxins, and some medications and medical conditions. However, hepatitis is most often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

The Hepatitis Risk Assessment tool is designed to determine an individual's risk for viral hepatitis and asks questions based upon CDC's guidelines for testing and vaccination. After completing the assessment, you will get personalized recommendations that you can print and bring to your doctor.

Want to learn more about viral hepatitis? Here are some basic facts.

Graphic: Millions of Americans are living with viral hepatitis.

Learn more about the most common types of viral hepatitis, how they spread, and how to protect yourself and loved ones.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe disease lasting several months. Although rare, people have died from getting infected with the hepatitis A virus.

Hepatitis A is spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool—even in small amounts you cannot see—from an infected person. Contamination of food can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, preparing, and handling food items after cooking. Raw shellfish, fruits, vegetables, and undercooked foods are common sources of Hepatitis A. Waterborne outbreaks typically result from water or ice from an inadequately treated or sewage-contaminated source. The good news is Hepatitis A can be easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. In fact, cases of Hepatitis A have declined significantly over the last several decades due to widespread vaccination.

The Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk. Unfortunately, many of the cases of Hepatitis A in the United States have occurred from international travelers eating or drinking contaminated food or water. CDC recommends that travelers to countries where Hepatitis A is common get vaccinated in advance of travel. Even if travel is restricted to resort destinations, it is still possible to get infected with the hepatitis A virus.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is also a highly contagious liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus. The disease can range from mild symptoms lasting a few weeks to a life-long, chronic condition. Left untreated, chronic Hepatitis B can cause serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. However, treatments are available that can help slow down or prevent liver damage. Hepatitis B can also be prevented by a vaccine. 

The hepatitis B virus is spread primarily when blood, semen, or certain other body fluids from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. The virus can also be passed from an infected woman to her baby at birth, if her baby does not receive the Hepatitis B vaccine. The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and anyone else at increased risk .

Approximately 1.2 million people in the US are living with chronic Hepatitis B and many do not know they are infected. Some populations have higher rates of infection, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), who account for more than 50% of Americans living with chronic Hepatitis B. That's why CDC recommends anyone born in Asian or Pacific Island countries, or whose parents were born in these countries, get tested for Hepatitis B. Unfortunately, many people got infected before the vaccine was widely available.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C, caused by the hepatitis C virus, can also range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a life-long, chronic infection. Unfortunately, most people who get infected develop chronic Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. More than 3 million Americans have chronic Hepatitis C, but many living with the disease do not know they are infected. People can live for decades without symptoms or feeling sick, so testing is crucial. Since approximately 75% of those infected were born from 1945-1965, CDC recommends that everyone born during this time period get tested for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. While uncommon, poor infection control has resulted in outbreaks in healthcare settings. In the past, Hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply for Hepatitis C virus since 1992 has virtually eliminated the virus from the blood supply. There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C. Treatments are available that can cure Hepatitis C.

Visit the Viral Hepatitis website for more information.

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