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World Hepatitis Day aims to shed light on harmful disease

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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There are crucial internal body parts that are essential for life, such as the heart, lungs, brainstem and liver. The liver is a large organ that serves as our body's way of clearing out toxins, persevering through many difficult tasks. However, many things can still harm the liver and cause disease, such as hepatitis. Hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver, is caused through exposure to chemicals, drugs, medications, alcohol, some diseases, and/or bacterial or viral infections. The amount of exposure needed from any of these harmful factors differs from individual to individual.

July 28, 2016, is World Hepatitis Day, and we should all take the time to learn more about some viruses that cause this disease, as well as ways to prevent them. Symptoms of hepatitis can include fever, body aches, "flu-like" illness and oftentimes jaundice (yellowing of the skin). The most common types of contagious hepatitis in the United States are hepatitis A, B and C.

Hepatitis A is relatively mild in children and can range in severity from no symptoms at all to diarrhea and jaundice. Most people recover completely. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person eats or drinks items that may be contaminated by the feces or stool of an infected person. Once a person recovers from hepatitis A, they will not get hepatitis A again. In many countries, hepatitis A is widespread and travelers should consider getting vaccinated (series of two shots six months apart) prior to traveling to a developing country. In the United States, the hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children. The best ways to prevent hepatitis A is by washing your hands and getting vaccinated.

Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen or another body fluid from a hepatitis B infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact, sharing needles or syringes or other drug-injection equipment. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

A person newly infected with the hepatitis B virus has an acute, short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis B virus remains in a person's body. Chronic hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, increased risk for liver cancer and even death. In the United States, hepatitis B vaccine (three-shot series) is recommended for all children and certain professions. The best ways to prevent hepatitis B is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease and by getting vaccinated.

Drugs such as alpha interferon, peginterferon and a variety of antiviral drugs are available to slow the duplication of the virus and occasionally result in its clearance. Children born to mothers infected with hepatitis B should also be vaccinated within 12 hours of birth, as this can prevent an infection that will most likely progress to chronic hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Some people have become infected with hepatitis C in the past when they received blood products. Current blood supplies are screened for hepatitis A, B and C.

Acute hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term, often unnoticed, illness that occurs within the first six months after someone is exposed, but often leads to a chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, need for liver transplant or even death. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injection drug use.

Treatment for chronic hepatitis C aims to eradicate the virus. It often involves a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin, and there is increasing use of potent direct-acting antiviral drugs, with and without interferon. People with different types of hepatitis C respond differently to treatment, some more successfully than others.

For persons who have had a bout of hepatitis, regardless of cause, the risk of having more serious consequences after another liver inflammation is a huge concern. If you have had a bout of hepatitis, consider getting vaccinated. We often counsel folks to avoid unnecessary medications, alcohol use or chemical exposure. Avoid unhealthy behaviors, stay active and stay healthy.

Diana T. Yu, MD, MSPH, is a health officer at Mason County Public Health. She can be reached at

Copyright 2016 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: July 21, 2016

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