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World Hepatitis Awareness Day

Hollis Pickett of Redding offers this today with an advisory that it has been reviewed by physicians for medical accuracy.

Monday, May 19, 2008, is World Hepatitis Awareness Day.

Hepatitis is defined as “inflammation of the liver.” Most hepatitis is caused by alcohol abuse.

There are, however, five strains of viral (contagious) hepatitis (A through E).

Here is a list of most of the ways you can come into contact with viral hepatitis.

1. Have you ever received any kind of blood product (either whole blood or components like
platelets) especially prior to 1990 or so?
2. Did you ever experiment with intravenous drugs or share a straw to inhale cocaine?
3. Do you ever share personal hygiene items with someone - a razor, a toothbrush, nail clippers,
cuticle scissors - anything that could have blood cells on it?
4. Do you have any tattoos or body piercings? Do you share body piercing jewelry?
5. Have you had sex with multiple partners? Are you a man having sex with men?
6. Are you an armed services veteran?
7. Have you ever received invasive medical treatments or injections outside of the U.S.?
The main symptoms of hepatitis include: fatigue, jaundice, nausea, dark urine, clay-colored
stools, fever, pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdominal area.

All forms of viral hepatitis (A through E) can be transmitted through contaminated blood.

Types A (HAV) and E (HEV) are primarily found in food or water contaminated with feces.
Infection with these two forms does not go on to become chronic infection. They can still make
you very ill, however, so if you ever see your skin or the whites of your eyes become yellow
(jaundice), go to the doctor. This is the type you hear about when people eat at a restaurant and
become ill with hepatitis. Most people clear this infection on their own. Some, however become
ill enough to be hospitalized.

Hepatitis B (HBV) can also be acquired through sex or household contact. If you’re infected,
it is present in your body fluids. There is no cure. It can be controlled, but not eliminated. It can
be passed to your child in childbirth. You can become infected and never go through an acute
stage where you show symptoms. It can progress to liver cancer without ever causing fibrosis
(scarring of liver tissue). There are eight different strains (A-H). HBV can live for many days
outside the body.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is rarely sexually transmitted. It can be passed during childbirth. It can
survive for days outside the body. You can become infected and never go through an acute phase where you show symptoms.

There are six strains, called genotypes (1-6) and subtypes (1a, 1b,
etc.) - about 50 subtypes altogether. There is a treatment, but it does not work very well for the
most common genotype in the U.S., genotype 1. Treatment can have serious side effects, bad
enough to cause people to have to discontinue therapy. Types 1 (85%), 2 and 3 (10%) comprise
about 95% of the cases in this country. HBV and HCV chronically infect roughly 6 million
people in this country. Types 4, 5 and 6 are mostly found in Europe and Asia.

It is entirely possible to be infected with HBV or HCV for 10, 20, or 30 years and have no
idea that you are carrying a chronic viral condition. This is particularly bad because hepatitis
affects your liver. Your liver is the most important organ in your body - period! It is also the
most silent and the last to complain. You can progress all the way to cirrhosis and just be feeling
tired, sort of unwell, generally blah. The often low-key symptoms can lead you in diverse
directions without getting to the root of the problem.

Hepatitis D (HDV) is HBV-dependent. You must be infected with HBV to have HDV. If you
have HBV, however, you do not necessarily have HDV.

If you regularly donate blood, your blood is being screened and the blood bank will notify you
if they find anything contagious in your blood. All physicians should be asking their patients if
they have ever been screened for viral hepatitis antibodies and HIV. The tests are inexpensive -
roughly $8 per test. If you test negative for HAV and HBV antibodies, you can be vaccinated.
Vaccination is a series of three shots over six months at a cost of around $200. If you test
negative for HCV antibodies, count your blessings. There is no vaccine for HCV. Consistent
screening of the blood supply for HCV did not begin until around 1990. If you are currently an
intravenous drug user or have a history of IV drug use, most county public health departments
will test you for free. There is a home test kit available. The best choice for testing is your
primary care physician. If you test positive for B or C antibodies, further testing is needed to
determine if you are chronically infected or have simply been exposed at some point and
recovered on your own.

There are still risks out there. Because of shoddy safety procedures, a Las Vegas endoscopy
clinic was shut down in February of this year. Over a period of four years, they put 40,000
people in harm’s way by reusing syringes and contaminating and reusing vials of medication.
This is not an isolated incident. Six other clinics have been shut down in Las Vegas following
that investigation and similar scenarios have played out in Nebraska, Australia and the UK over
the last few years. The word appalling comes to mind. Even if you test negative now, if you
have any kind of invasive medical procedure later, you should be retested about six months
following that procedure. It takes roughly six weeks to six months to develop antibodies that can
be detected in your blood.

Please consider commemorating World Hepatitis Awareness Day by going to your doctor for
testing for viral hepatitis and HIV. As is the case with almost any health condition, early
diagnosis and treatment can save a life.

If you would like to schedule a free presentation
regarding viral hepatitis, go to www.jett.net/hepc and e-mail me (many thanks to JET
Technologies here in Redding for providing that link free of charge).

That page provides a PDF download of my handout on this subject. If you would like to assist me and others in the “Spread the
Word, Not the Virus” campaign, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the NorCal Hep C
Task Force at: P.O. Box 3307, Yuba City CA 95992.

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