Hepatitis Awareness Month is a campaign to raise awareness about hepatitis. National Hepatitis Awareness Month was first established by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention in 2001.

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver and is caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. There also are hepatitis D and E, which are not common in the United States.

Hepatitis A Hepatitis B Hepatitis C
Self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection Chronic in about 5% of cases Chronic in about 75%
of cases
Transmitted through feces due to poor hygiene or contaminated food or water Transmitted through blood, semen, or another body fluid Transmitted blood to blood
Vaccine available

Usually resolve within 2 months of infection

Treatment available

Vaccine available

Cure available

No vaccine available

Prevention is key

 

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. You’re most likely to get hepatitis A from contaminated food or water or from close contact with a person or object that’s infected. Mild cases of hepatitis A don’t require treatment. Most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage. Practicing good hygiene, including washing hands frequently, is one of the best ways to protect against hepatitis A. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause a sudden loss of liver function, especially in older adults or people with chronic liver diseases. Acute liver failure requires a stay in the hospital for monitoring and treatment. Some people with acute liver failure may need a liver transplant. Vaccines are available for people most at risk.

 

Hepatitis B is common worldwide, especially in many parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. In the United States, hepatitis B disproportionately affects Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). While AAPIs make up less than 5% of the U.S. population, they account for more than 50% of Americans living with hepatitis B. Left untreated, nearly one in four people living with hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, even liver cancer. In fact, hepatitis B-related liver cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths among Asian-Americans. Getting tested for hepatitis B can help many people access lifesaving treatments that can prevent serious liver damage.

 

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. Most people who get infected will develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure and even liver cancer. The hepatitis C virus is usually spread when someone encounters blood from an infected person. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1990 and the hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. In fact, rates of new infections have been on the rise, due in part to the increase in injection drug use. While rare, hepatitis C also can spread through healthcare exposures, sex with an infected person, birth to an infected mother, and tattoos and body piercings from unlicensed facilities or informal settings. People with hepatitis C often have no symptoms, so testing is the only way to know if you are infected. The CDC recommends anyone born from 1945-1965 get tested for hepatitis C. In Pennsylvania, Act 87 requires primary care providers to offer a voluntary hepatitis C screening for those born between 1945-1965. There currently is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Fortunately, new treatments offer a cure for most people. Once diagnosed, most people with hepatitis C can be cured in just eight to 12 weeks, reducing liver cancer risk by 75%.

 

Although millions of Americans are living with viral hepatitis, most do not know they are infected. People can live with chronic hepatitis for decades without having symptoms. This assessment will help determine if you should be vaccinated and/or tested for viral hepatitis: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment/start.html.

May 19th is National Hepatitis Testing Day. We encourage you to be screened by your primary care physician. It is a simple blood test that can save your liver and your life. 

Approximately 3.5 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C. In 2017, there were 3,272 reported confirmed and probable cases of HCV in Allegheny County. 

Through Hep C Free Allegheny County, a collaboration with the Allegheny County Department of Health, the Community Liver Alliance, UPMC, AHN and many other important stakeholders, a hepatitis C elimination plan is underway to support all Allegheny County residents living with and at risk for hepatitis C. Our goal is to maximize their health and wellness by reducing barriers to health and human services through a coordinated, multi-sector effort to expand prevention, education, testing and access to care and treatment.

To achieve our goals, we have created four Workgroups comprised of experts from the county, state and across the nation. Each Workgroup has a set of co-chairs and members who have created goals and objectives.

Workgroups

  1. Surveillance and Research
  2. Testing and Linkage to Care
  3. Treatment Expansion
  4. Education, Prevention and Advocacy

We invite others to join our quest to eliminate hepatitis C in Allegheny County by contacting Suzanna Masartis, executive director of the Community Liver Alliance, at Suzanna@communityliveralliance.org.

Author profile
Suzanna Masartis

Ms. Masartis is the executive director for the Community Liver Alliance and a convener of the Hep C Free Allegheny County elimination plan. She is an experienced leader with a 25-year progressive nonprofit career.