(NaturalNews) Viral hepatitis remains a public health challenge in the United States. Approximately 3.5-5.3 million persons are living with the condition, and millions more are at risk for infection. Hepatitis, which is largely preventable, is the leading cause of liver cancer. Without appropriate care, 1 in 4 persons with chronic hepatitis will develop liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
In January 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report on hepatitis, explaining the barriers to hepatitis prevention and treatment. In response to this, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just released the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan -- Combating the Silent Epidemic: US Department of Health and Human Services Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis. The Plan is meant to result in:
- more people being aware that they have the condition
- a reduction in new cases
- a complete elimination of mother to child transmission of Hepatitis B
Although viral hepatitis is a leading cause of infectious death in the U.S., many people are unaware they have the condition because often time they don't feel the symptoms, or the symptoms are there, but just feel like the flu.
Here's a quick overview of viral hepatitis:
Hepatitis A - found in the feces of infected persons. Hepatitis A spreads from one person to another by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A. This can happen when people do not wash their hands after using the toilet and then touch other people's food. Typically, milder symptoms than hepatitis B or C. Illness from hepatitis A is usually brief, and infection with the virus does not lead to chronic liver disease or liver cancer.
Hepatitis B - found in blood and certain body fluids of infected persons. Hepatitis B spreads when a person who is not immune comes in contact with blood or body fluid from an infected person. Hepatitis B is spread by having sex with an infected person without a condom, sharing needles during injected drug use, needle sticks or sharps, exposures in a health care setting, or from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal birth. Exposure to blood in any situation can be a risk for transmission. There are usually no symptoms until there are serious liver complications. When symptoms do appear, they may include high fever, jaundice and abdominal pain chronic hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis and/or liver cancer.
Hepatitis C - also found in blood and certain body fluids of infected persons. Hepatitis C spreads when a person who is not immune comes in contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person. Hepatitis C is spread through sharing needles during injected drug use, needle sticks or sharps, exposures in a health care setting, through organ transplants that have not been screened, or less commonly from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal birth. It is possible to get hepatitis C from sex, but it is uncommon. Infection with the hepatitis C virus is the number one reason for liver transplant in the U.S. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.
There is a simple blood test to check for the Hepatitis virus.
Hopefully, with the guidance of this plan and the collaboration of policy figures, stake holders, and health care practitioners we can reduce the transmission of this silent epidemic.
About the author: Kshamica Nimalasuriya MD, MPH is a Preventive Medicine Physician involved with merging Media with Health, Open-Source Education, Herbal Medicine, Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness, and Love. She works on many initiatives bridging the global digital divide of health care education.