Local pharmacists on what you need to know about hepatitis infections

Hepatitis  

Local pharmacists on what you need to know about hepatitis infections.

QUESTION: “I’ve heard about a hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego. What can I do to protect myself from hepatitis?”

ANSWER: On July 28, the World Health Organization is celebrating World Hepatitis Day. It’s a chance to learn more about the different types of hepatitis that impact millions worldwide and what you can do to help eliminate hepatitis. While different types of hepatitis infections affect other parts of the world more severely, there’re ways to become involved to help protect yourself and others from the spread of the infection.

There’re several different types of hepatitis viruses that infect people. The types of hepatitis viruses include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E. In the United States, hepatitis A, B, and C most commonly cause disease. Below is an overview of the most common hepatitis viruses that infect people in the United States.

  • Hepatitis A: primarily spread when someone ingests the virus within food, drinks, or objects that are contaminated with fecal matter. Hepatitis A does not lead to chronic liver problems, but can cause some serious symptoms. You can help reduce the spread of hepatitis A through improved sanitation and food safety. A vaccination for hepatitis A is also available, and recommended if you plan on traveling to a country with a high rate of hepatitis A infections. Check with your primary care provider or local pharmacy to see if you’re a candidate to receive the hepatitis A vaccine.
  • Hepatitis B: this infection can be spread through body fluids such as blood or sexual contact. Hepatitis B can lead to acute or chronic infection and can lead to a serious chronic illness. Getting the hepatitis B vaccine is the most effective way to prevent hepatitis B. Check with your doctor or pharmacy to see if you’re a candidate to receive the hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Hepatitis C: this virus is spread through contact with blood of an infected person. Some ways people get hepatitis C include sharing needles with injection drug use or unsterile medical procedures. Hepatitis C can lead to a chronic infection, which can lead to liver damage or even liver cancer. There’s currently no vaccine available to prevent the spread of hepatitis C. However, new treatment options can cure people of hepatitis C if they are infected.
Disease Characteristics Hepatitis A Hepatitis B Hepatitis C
Transmission Ingestion of fecal matter from contaminated food or drink or close person to person contact with an infected person Contact with infectious blood, semen, or other bodily fluid Contact with blood of an infected person
Symptoms of acute infection Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gray colored bowel movements, joint pain, jaundice
Potential for Chronic Infection No potential for chronic infection Potential for chronic infection in those unimmunized Potential for chronic infection
Severity No lasting liver damage, rarely fatal Can lead to chronic liver disease Can lead to chronic liver disease
Vaccinations available? Yes, two doses given six months apart Yes, three doses given over a six-month period No vaccine available

 

There’re several ways to protect yourself from hepatitis infection and prevent the spread of hepatitis. Check with your primary care provider to see if you’re a candidate for vaccination for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends that people born from 1945 through 1965 be tested for hepatitis C as well. Baby boomers born during this time generally have a higher risk of being infected with hepatitis C. Other people who should be tested for hepatitis C include those who’re on dialysis, who received a blood transfusion before 1992, or who have liver disease.

The CDC also has an online hepatitis risk assessment available at cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment. This risk assessment takes about five minutes and can help guide you on whether you should be vaccinated or tested for different types of viral hepatitis.

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