Hepatitis C: know the risks

Tuesday, May 05, 2015 | 01:00pm

NASHVILLE – Hepatitis C is a deadly but treatable disease; that’s why the Tennessee Department of Health is sharing a reminder about the importance of getting tested. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, a perfect time to know your status and seek treatment if needed.

“There are three types of viral hepatitis: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C; each are transmitted uniquely and cause separate illnesses,” said Carolyn Wester, MD, MPH, TDH Medical Director, HIV/STD/Viral Hepatitis. “Vaccines are available to prevent against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B infection. There is currently no vaccine to prevent against Hepatitis C so it’s very important to find out if you’re at risk.”

Millions of people unknowingly are infected with hepatitis C or other variants of the disease as a result of exposure, even decades ago. The Centers for Disease Control recommends all individuals born from 1945 through 1965 be tested for Hepatitis C infection once. Individuals of any age should be tested for Hepatitis C if they have any additional risk factors.

The more common forms of viral hepatitis in the U.S. include:

Hepatitis A:  Usually caused by the inadvertent ingestion of fecal matter from close contact with others or from contaminated food or drinks. It does not cause chronic infection and the hepatitis A vaccination can prevent you from getting it.

Hepatitis B:  Usually caused by infected blood, semen or other body fluids resulting from unprotected sex; sharing contaminated needles or straws to snort drugs; or passed on from a mother to her newborn. Illness can range from short and mild to serious and long-term. It can lead to liver disease or liver cancer. Hepatitis B vaccination can prevent you from getting it.

Hepatitis C:  Usually caused by contact with blood of an infected person, often through sharing of contaminated needles or straws to snort drugs; unsanitary piercing or tattooing equipment; or blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992. It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.

Viral Hepatitis B and C can live for many years, even decades, in the body without causing any symptoms. They may destroy the liver gradually, with no major symptoms, and for many individuals the diagnosis comes too late. The vast majority of people with hepatitis C can now be cured with a 12-week regimen of oral medications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a free, five-minute online assessment that can tell you if you are at risk. To take the simple test, go to www.cdc.gov/HEPATITIS/riskassessment.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments.  Learn more about TDH services and programs at http://health.state.tn.us/.