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Notice to Readers: National Hepatitis Awareness Month --- May 2001

May is National Hepatitis Awareness Month. Hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States. Hepatitis A, a disease transmitted through the fecal-oral route, occurs in epidemics both nationwide and in communities. Children are often the reservoir for infection, and during epidemic years, the number of reported cases has reached 35,000. Hepatitis A vaccine is the best protection against hepatitis A virus infection. During the late 1990s, when hepatitis A vaccine became more widely used, the number of cases reached historic lows.

Hepatitis B and C are both bloodborne diseases transmitted when blood or body fluids from an infected person enter the body of a susceptible person. Both hepatitis B and C can cause chronic infection that can lead to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The number of new hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections per year has declined from approximately 450,000 during the 1980s to approximately 80,000 in 1998. Hepatitis B vaccine is the best protection against infection with HBV. The greatest decline in HBV infections has occurred among children and adolescents as the result of routine hepatitis B vaccination. The number of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections per year declined from approximately 240,000 during the 1980s to approximately 40,000 in 1998. No vaccine exists to prevent HCV infection. The infection is transmitted most often by injection drug use. Transfusion-associated cases occurred before blood donor screening, but currently HCV infection occurs in less than one per million transfused units of blood. Additional information about hepatitis A, B, and C is available from the CDC hepatitis hotline, telephone (888) 443-7232 or from CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.



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