Officials urge getting tested, vaccinated for hepatitis

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 325 million people worldwide are affected by hepatitis B and C, causing 1.4 million deaths per year. In support of World Hepatitis Day, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is encouraging Michiganders to get tested for hepatitis B and C.

Testing for hepatitis B and C is important for diagnosing the infection early as infected individuals can live decades without experiencing any signs or symptoms. Viral hepatitis infections cause inflammation in the liver and can result in liver damage, liver cancer and affect liver function.

“World Hepatitis Day (July 28) is an opportunity to find those unknowingly living with hepatitis and linking them to care,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health. “I urge Michiganders to learn more about these potentially deadly diseases and talk with their healthcare provider about testing.”

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted from person-to-person through contaminated blood or body fluids. HBV can spread from infected mothers to their infants at birth, through unprotected sex, or through contact with blood or body fluids of a person who has the virus. In the United States, an estimated 2.2 million Americans are living with a chronic HBV.

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a bloodborne pathogen and is spread from person-to-person through the contaminated blood of an infected individual. In the United States, an estimated 3.5 million Americans are living with a chronic hepatitis C infection, and persons born from 1945 to 1965 make up 75 percent of those cases. In recent years, however, an emerging epidemic of HCV in adults under 40 has been identified in areas across the United States and in Michigan, which is primarily driven by an increase in HCV cases from sharing of injection drug equipment and works related to the concurrent opiate and heroin epidemics.

Early detection, linkage to care, and treatment are key to identifying current HBV and HCV infection, slowing disease progression and liver damage, and lowering risk of liver cancer. The only way to know you are infected is with a blood test. There is a safe and effective vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infection, and treatments available to treat hepatitis B. New HCV treatments are available that can cure more than 90 percent of persons living with HCV with minimal side effects.

In addition, individuals with chronic liver disease, such as HBV or HCV, should be vaccinated for hepatitis A. The hepatitis A virus is an acute but serious and highly contagious liver disease which can be contracted by eating contaminated food or water, during sex or just by living with an infected person.

MDHHS encourages residents to:

– Take the online hepatitis risk assessment.

– Get tested for hepatitis C.

– If you have hepatitis C, talk to an infectious disease specialist, hepatologist or gastroenterologist about treatment options.

– Get tested for hepatitis B. If testing indicates you have not been previously exposed to the hepatitis B virus, get vaccinated for hepatitis B to prevent future infection.

– Get vaccinated for hepatitis A.

For more information on hepatitis A, visit Mi.gov/hepatitisAoutbreak. For more information on hepatitis B, visit Cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv. For more information on hepatitis C, visit Cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv.

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