Friday, May 18, 2012

National Hepatitis Awareness Month

By: Kevin Maloney, Deputy Director, Community Access National Network (CANN)

This month is National Hepatitis Awareness month, and Tomorrow, May 19th has been designated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) as National Hepatitis testing day.

It is estimated by the CDC that 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV-infection and it is estimated that 1 in 3 living with HIV-infection are also co-infected with Hepatitis B (HBV) or Hepatitis C (HCV). There is both acute and chronic Hepatitis C. Acute HCV is caught within the first 6 months of becoming infected, while chronic Hepatitis C can persist for as long as 20 + years, and both can be asymptomatic. Viral hepatitis progresses faster among persons with HIV-infection and persons who are infected with both viruses experience greater liver-related health problems than those who do not have HIV-infection. Although antiretroviral therapy has extended the life expectancy of persons with HIV-infection, liver disease—much of which is related to Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C infection—has become the leading cause of non-AIDS-related deaths among this population.

People living with HIV-infection who are co-infected with either Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C are at increased risk for serious, life-threatening complications. As a result, all persons living with HIV-infection should be tested for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C by their doctors.

Hepatitis C increases the risk of death for patients with AIDS by 50%, according to the results of a large study published in the online edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases this month. A fifth of these deaths were attributable to liver-related causes, five times the rate seen in people with AIDS who were not co-infected. The investigators also found that a third of co-infected patients were unaware of their hepatitis C infection.

Below are some more facts from the CDC:

  • About 25% of individuals infected with HIV in the US are also infected with HCV, and an estimated 10% of individuals infected with HIV are coinfected with HBV.

  • About 80% of injection drug users (IDUs) with HIV infection also have HCV.

  • HIV coinfection more than triples the risk for liver disease, liver failure, and liver-related death from HCV.

  • About 20% of all new HBV infections and 10% of all new Hepatitis A (HAV) infections in the US are among MSM. For MSM not infected with HBV or HAV, any sexual activity with an infected person increases their risk. In particular, unprotected anal sex increases the risk for both HBV and HIV among MSM, and direct anal-oral contact increases the risk for HAV.

  • Compared with other age groups, a greater proportion (about 1 in 33) of persons aged 46–64 years are infected with HCV.

  • Chronic HCV is often "silent," and many persons can have the infection for 20 to 30 years without having symptoms or feeling sick.

  • In the US, HCV is twice as prevalent among blacks as among whites.

  • The following is some general information about Hepatitis C.

    What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?

    Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:

  • Abnormal liver function tests (ALT/AST numbers)
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)

  • How is Hepatitis C spread?

    Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

    People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as:

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
  • Needle stick injuries in health care settings
  • Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C
  • Particularly increasing and alarming is sexual transmission of HCV in large urban, San Francisco, Washington D.C.

  • Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes.

    Treatment Options:

    Hepatitis B and C can be cured. The earlier the infection is diagnosed the better there is a chance at curing it. Though, with new medicines and much more in the pipeline – chronic Hepatitis C sufferers are also finding it easier to cure Hepatitis C. Many clinics have the capability of doing rapid HCV screenings, much like the HIV test where a patient's status can be determined in 20 minutes. Treatment options for Hepatitis C are becoming more effective and less toxic to the body. !

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