Learning about hepatitis prevention can help keep you and your children from infection. Here’s what you need to know about staying healthy.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most often caused by a virus. In the US, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, B, and C. Each hepatitis virus affects the liver differently and has a different route of transmission. However, they can all produce similar symptoms. Fortunately, effective vaccines are available to help prevent hepatitis A and B.
Millions have hepatitis
Still, millions are living with viral hepatitis B and C, but many do not know they are infected, as you can live with the disease for decades without having symptoms. For all types of viral hepatitis, symptoms are less common in children than in adults.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is spread by eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, and by close person-to-person contact in a household.
Children remain unvaccinated
Although, hepatitis A vaccinations are recommended for children starting at ages 12-23, unfortunately, many US children remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to infection. Above all, adults who are at risk and should be vaccinated include those with direct contact with someone who has hepatitis A, travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common, men who have sex with men, and injection drug users, among others.
Hepatitis B is a more serious, potentially fatal liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). This can affect individuals of all ages. Up to 2.2 million individuals in the US have long-term or chronic infections. As a result, liver scarring, liver failure, and liver cancer are possible. The HBV virus spreads when blood, or body fluid, from an infected person enters the body of a non-immune person. Additionally, HBV can also be spread through unprotected sex with an infected person, by sharing needles or from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth.
Vaccination prevents HBV infection and related complications. In the US, hepatitis B vaccination is given within 24 hours of birth. Additionally, as are children and adolescents who have not been vaccinated previously, and to adults at risk for HBV infection. Vaccines are available in the US to protect against HBV. This includes a new 2-does series vaccine, recently recommended for adults 18 and older.
Hepatitis is a blood-borne virus
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) by sharing needles. Subsequently, Hepatitis C is increasing in the wake of the national opioid epidemic. In the US, those born between 1945-1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C infection. The CDC recommends testing for everyone born during that period.
For 70 to 80 percent of those infected with HCV, it becomes a chronic infection. This can result in long-term serious health problems. There is currently no vaccine for HCV. The best way to practice hepatitis prevention is to avoid behaviors that can cause it to spread, particularly injecting drugs.