STATE — During National Hepatitis Awareness Month, the New Jersey Department of Health is reminding residents about the dangers of hepatitis and steps that they can take to prevent the disease.
Hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver that can lead to serious health consequences, is most often caused by one of several viruses. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Unlike hepatitis A, which does not cause a long-term infection, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can become chronic, life-long infections. Chronic viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems including liver cancer. More than 4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C in the United States, but most do not know they are infected. Each year, approximately 15,000 Americans die from liver cancer or chronic liver disease associated with viral hepatitis.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone born during 1945 through 1965, also known as baby boomers, get a blood test for hepatitis C,” said Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd. “Baby boomers are 5 times more likely than other adults to be infected.”
With early detection, many people can get lifesaving care and treatment that can limit disease progression, and prevent deaths.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood through sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs, needlestick injuries in healthcare settings, being born to a mother with hepatitis C, or sharing personal care items with an infected person. Less commonly, people can be infected through sexual contact with an infected person.
A recent “Vital Signs” report issued earlier this month by the CDC showed that only half of Americans identified as ever having had hepatitis C received follow-up testing showing that they were still infected. This data suggest that even among individuals who receive an initial antibody test, as many as half do not know for sure if they still carry the virus. Follow-up testing is needed to determining if a person is still infected and is critical to preventing liver cancer and other serious and potentially deadly health consequences.
Hepatitis B infection is spread through blood and body fluids. People can be infected when they have sexual contact or share needles and other drug equipment with an infected person. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
Hepatitis A is usually spread through contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person.
The good news is both hepatitis A and hepatitis B can be prevented with safe and effective vaccines. Cases of hepatitis A have dramatically declined in the United States over the last 20 years due to vaccination efforts. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children one year of age and for adults who may be at increased risk.
The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and for adults who may be at increased risk. The risk for chronic infection varies according to the age at infection and is greatest among young children. Approximately 90% of infants and 25%-50% of children aged 1-5 years will remain chronically infected with HBV. By contrast, approximately 95% of adults recover completely from HBV infection and do not become chronically infected.
“Parents should be sure to vaccinate their newborns with the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine prior to leaving the hospital,” said O’Dowd. “Babies will need to complete the hepatitis B vaccine series to protect against this serious disease that has life-long consequences.”
For more on Hepatitis, visit the Department’s Hepatitis A B and C webpages:
The CDC offers additional Hepatitis Information at:
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