With the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation that has hit West Virginia especially hard, both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C have been in the news lately. Although there are several ways to get each disease, sharing needles is one of them. Hepatitis B, and less often, Hepatitis C, can also be spread by having sexual contact with an infected person. West Virginia has the highest incidence—rate per 100,000 residents—in the United States of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
And now southern West Virginia is dealing with a Hepatitis A outbreak that started in California. Monongalia County Health Department has provided Hep A vaccines to certain populations who may be at risk for the illness in an effort to keep the outbreak away from this area.
Hepatitis A is different than Hep B and Hep C in that it’s spread mainly through oral-fecal contact or through the consumption of contaminated water or food. That’s why people who live in unsanitary conditions are at greater risk, and thorough handwashing after using the bathroom is of vital importance when it comes to fighting this illness.
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, which was launched in 2007 by the World Hepatitis Alliance. It’s a great time to learn about this disease, how to avoid it, how to get tested for it and how to treat it. Furthermore, MCHD’s Clinical Services program has teamed up with the West Virginia University School of Nursing to conduct a Hepatitis Clinic on Fridays. Clients can be tested and then also receive care, guidance and referrals for additional treatment.
Let’s start by going over what hepatitis is. It’s a disease that affects the liver. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all hepatitis viruses can cause inflammation of the liver. Chronic Hepatitis B virus and chronic Hepatitis C virus can lead to liver disease, liver failure and even liver cancer. Viral hepatitis is a major global health threat with around 325 million people living with chronic Hepatitis B or C virus.
But there is good news. Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are both vaccine-preventable. Hepatitis A, the CDC notes, does not result in chronic infection. Most adults with hepatitis A have symptoms that include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, nausea and jaundice that usually resolve within two months of infection; most children less than 6 years of age do not have symptoms or have an unrecognized infection. Antibodies produced in response to Hepatitis A infection last for life and protect against reinfection.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, on the other hand, can be acute infections for some people, but for others, they can turn into long-term chronic diseases. Like Hepatitis A, there is a vaccine that prevents Hepatitis B. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, but there is a cure. It’s very expensive; MCHD Clinical Services’ Hepatitis Clinic can help navigate insurance for the medication.
Because it’s World Hepatitis Day, we also can focus on the situation around the globe. It’s estimated that 300 million people are living with viral hepatitis without even knowing about it. That’s why this year’s theme is “Find the Missing Millions,” calling upon the global community to raise awareness so those who need treatment can get it while also identifying ways to stay healthy and prevent the disease.
The worldwide statistics are daunting. Hepatitis causes 1.34 million deaths each year and causes two out of three liver cancer deaths.
Here in West Virginia, we’re doing our part to identify and treat hepatitis. The CDC website has extensive information on how to prevent hepatitis, which include, as we mentioned, safe sex practices and not sharing needles to avoid Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, and by emphasizing cleanliness and sanitary conditions to avoid Hepatitis A.
MCHD’s Hepatitis Clinic is held on Fridays. If you are interested in getting tested or learning more, call 304-598-5119 for an appointment.