Hepatitis Awareness Month
Hepatitis, a viral infection that attacks the liver by causing it to swell and not function properly, is a particularly insidious infection. There are three main hepatitis viruses – hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C— and they are spread in different ways.
If left untreated, known as chronic hepatitis, both hepatitis B and hepatitis C can lead to potentially fatal liver damage, including liver cancer. The Arizona Department of Health Services estimates there are approximately 4.4. million people living with chronic, undiagnosed hepatitis.
Although it is possible to contract all the hepatitis viruses through sexual activity, and hepatitis B and hepatitis C are considered sexually transmitted diseases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is important not to think of hepatitis exclusively as an STI. Excessive use of addictive substances or alcohol can also lead to hepatitis, for example, as can health care contact with infected persons. An increasingly common cause of hepatitis B and C infections is drug use, both injected and non-injected. So it is important to understand the different kinds of hepatitis and assess your risk accordingly.
Hepatitis A is spread through oral-fecal contact, meaning sexual contact and contaminated food and water can both be a source of contagion. For this reason, it is a recommended vaccine for travelers to areas with high rates of the disease. Most people who contract hepatitis A will recover fully and not sustain liver damage. Unfortunately, however, an extreme decline of cases in the United States seems to be reversing due to outbreaks among particularly at-risk populations, including people experiencing homelessness, men who have sex with men and people who use drugs (both intravenously and non-injection).
Most people (though not all) recover from hepatitis A without long-term liver damage but symptoms that include fever, diarrhea and jaundice can last up to six months. Additionally, hepatitis A may be a co-infection with other diseases so it is important to get tested, seek treatment and take steps to avoid spreading it to others.
Hepatitis B is primarily spread through sexual contact in the United States and most infected persons will not manifest symptoms. It is the only sexually transmitted disease for which there is a vaccine. Most of the time people can recover and develop antibodies to it, meaning they cannot spread the disease to others or get re-infected. However, about 10 percent of those infected may develop a chronic infection that leads to an increased risk of liver disease though there are many promising treatments available that may help avoid liver damage.
That being said, hepatitis B is not to be taken lightly. You may be one of the 10 percent who do not build antibodies to the disease or could spread it to someone who is. Additionally, the availability of medication to prevent liver damage does not guarantee the treatment is available or affordable.
Hepatitis C is one of the more dangerous hepatitis viruses because most people who get infected do develop chronic infections which in turn can lead to dangerous and potentially fatal liver disease, including liver cancer. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control updated its testing guidelines and recommended all adults get tested for Hepatitis C.
An infected person can go decades without showing symptoms and often by the time they do serious or irreversible liver damage has already been done. There is even some evidence indicating hepatitis C can lead to cognitive impairment as well, such as decreasing concentration or taking longer to complete tasks. It can also increase the risk of miscarriage or pregnancy complications in women.
Though it can be spread through sexual contact transmission that way is relatively low. Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through blood. There has been a recent increase in cases as result of the opioid epidemic and intravenous drug use, though people who inject cocaine may be at even more risk of contracting hepatitis C. Since it takes very little blood to transmit hepatitis C even sharing personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes or razors can spread the virus. Non-injection blood use, such as sharing a straw, can also transmit hepatitis C from one person to another because nasal drug users often have tiny cuts or open sores in their nose; even the microscopic blood droplets can present a risk.
There is some good news, however. Hepatitis C is curable – through that treatment may not reverse any liver damage that has been sustained – and preventable through safe sex and low-risk drug use practices. Ultimately, the only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. Since May 19th is Hepatitis Testing Day, that’s as good a time as any if you are at risk.
ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness, and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members, and professionals.
What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:
- Works with the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
- Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
- Hosts the Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
- Deploys a Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response Team with peer support, training and family wraparound services
- Facilitates the Brain Health Advisory Council
- Manages a Statewide Neuro Info-Line 888-500-9165
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