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What You Don’t Know About Hepatitis Can Hurt You

More than four million Americans are living with viral hepatitis, but most don’t know they’re infected.

HepABCs-cubeMany people can live with hepatitis for decades without feeling sick or exhibiting any symptoms.  But left untreated, there are three different types of viral hepatitis which can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer or even cirrhosis, a condition that causes permanent scarring of the liver.

In honor of Hepatitis Awareness Month, learn how the different types of viral hepatitis are spread, as well as how they can be prevented or treated. 

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.

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It is usually spread by contact with people who are infected or from contact with objects, food, water or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person, which can easily happen if someone doesn’t properly wash his or her hands after using the toilet. It’s important to know that not all people with hepatitis A have symptoms, but it’s more likely for adults to have symptoms than children. If symptoms develop, they usually appear two to six weeks after being infected and may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Gray-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Severe stomach pains and diarrhea (mainly in children)

The good news is that hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. For the best protection, it is recommended that children receive two  doses of Hep A vaccine with the first dose being administered between 12 and 23 months of age, and a second dose administered 6 to 18 months after the first dose. Adults who have not been previously vaccinated, or who are at risk due to their work or travel. should also be vaccinated.  Since the introduction of the vaccine, cases of hepatitis A have plummeted across the country.  However, outbreaks still do occur. 

Currently, there are reported outbreaks in West Virginia, Kentucky and California in which hundreds of cases have been identified and several deaths have occurred. This is why all everyone should ensure they are protected against hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

People who get infected with the hepatitis B virus, especially young children, can go on to develop a chronic or lifelong infection which can cause serious liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis.

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Hepatitis B virus can be spread through contact with an infected person’s blood, semen, or other body fluids.  This may happen when someone has a cut or sore, when someone is bitten by another person (as in the case of children in daycare), through the sharing of a toothbrush or food has been chewed (like in the case of young children), from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth, through sexual contact, or by sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment.

Not all people with hepatitis B have symptoms. However, if they occur, they usually appear about three months after infection and can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint, muscle and stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. The vaccine is recommended for: 

  • All infants, starting with the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth.  This shot acts as a safety net, reducing the risk of a child getting hepatitis B from moms or family members who may not know they are infected with the disease. Additional doses of the vaccine should be given between 1 and 2 months, and between 6 and 18 months of age.Newborns who become infected with hepatitis B virus have a 90% chance of developing chronic Hepatitis B, which can eventually lead to serious health problems, including liver damage, liver cancer, and even death. This is why the birth dose has been an extremely effective way of reducing the risk of chronic Hepatitis B infection. 
  • All children and adolescents younger than 19 years of age who have not been fully vaccinated against hepatitis B
  • Unvaccinated adults at risk for hepatitis, in addition to any adult who wants to be protected from hepatitis B.

Unfortunately, many people got infected before the hepatitis B vaccine was widely available. That’s why the CDC recommends that anyone born in areas where hepatitis B is common (such as Asia, the Pacific Islands or Africa), or whose parents were born in these regions, get tested for hepatitis B.

You can learn more about who may be at increased risk of hepatitis B here. Fortunately, treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.

Hepatitis C

FACT: People born from 1945 - 1965 are 5 times more likely to be infected with Hepatitis C. Learn more: //www.cdc.gov/KnowMoreHepatitis/

For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for 70%–85% of people who become infected, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection which can cause serious liver damage and even liver cancer over time. Unfortunately, the majority of infected people are not aware of their infection because they are not clinically ill.

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. For reasons that are not entirely understood, people born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups.

Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. However, once diagnosed, most people can be treated and cured in just 8 to 12 weeks, reducing liver cancer risk by 75%. This is why awareness and testing is so critical.


The CDC has developed an online Hepatitis Risk Assessment to help people find out if they should get tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis.

ARE YOU AT RISK? Millions of Americans have VIRAL HEPATITIS. Most don't know it. Take this online assessment to see if you're at risk. //www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment/

The assessment, which takes only five minutes, will provide personalized testing and vaccination recommendations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and/or hepatitis C.  Take it today and protect yourself from these viruses that can so easily go undetected.  

On World Cancer Day Remember Vaccines Help Prevent Certain Cancers

February 4, 2016 3 comments

Yes, it’s World Cancer Day, but did you know that vaccines are currently helping to prevent and treat various types of cancer?

See, some cancers are caused by viruses and right now there  two commonly recommended vaccines (HepB and HPV) that target the very viruses that cause certain cancers.  We call these preventive cancer vaccines and they are a first-line defense against many cancers.  

Hepatitis B (HepB) Vaccine:

HepB112315The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a leading cause of liver cancer.   People who have chronic (long-term) HBV infections are at higher risk for liver cancer.  Unfortunately, that’s about 1 in 20 people (or about 350 million individuals). In fact, the virus is believed to be responsible for 600,000 deaths worldwide each year.  That means every 50 seconds someone dies from this vaccine-preventable disease.  

The likelihood that a hepatitis B infection will become chronic depends upon the age at which a person becomes infected.  Statistics show that 80–90% of infants who are infected during the first year of life, go on to develop chronic infections which is why infants are recommended to receive the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth.

Experts agree that the 3-shot HepB vaccine can provide lifelong protection against HBV and helping to prevent the most common cause of liver cancer.  The vaccine is not only proven safe, but is believed to be 95% effective at preventing HBV infection.  Furthermore, the vaccination series can be started at any age and does not require any boosters.  In fact, the vaccine is so effective at preventing HBV and liver cancer that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it the world’s first “anti-cancer  vaccine”.

To learn more about why it is so important for infants to get a birth dose of HepB vaccine, check out another Shot of Prevention blog, “Why Infants Should Receive the Hepatitis B Vaccine at Birth” here.  

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine:

HPV112315Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is often referred to as the common cold of the genitals.  About 1 in 4 Americans are currently infected (that’s about 80 million Americans), roughly 14 million people become newly infected each year, and about half of these new infections will be among people ages 15-24.

HPV infections are not only highly prevalent, but they can also result in cancerous cells that can lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus or oropharynx (which includes the head, neck, throat, mouth, tongue and tonsils). Read more…