As part of Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Department of Health is working to raise awareness by reminding residents that hepatitis can seriously affect their health and those at risk should get tested for the disease.
Hepatitis, defined as inflammation of the liver, is most often caused by one of several viruses. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. These diseases can lead to serious health consequences, including liver damage or liver cancer.
Hepatitis A and B can be prevented with safe and effective vaccines. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children between 12 and 23 months and for adults who may be at increased risk. Cases of hepatitis A have dramatically declined in the United States over the last 20 years due to vaccination efforts.
Hepatitis A is usually spread through contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by an infected person.
Hepatitis B infection is spread through blood and body fluids. People can be infected when they have sexual contact or share needles and other drug equipment with an infected person. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
The Hepatitis B vaccine series is recommended for all infants starting at birth and for adults who may be at increased risk. The risk for chronic infection varies according to the age at infection and is greatest among young children. Approximately 90 percent of infants and between 25 and 50 percent of children ages 1-5 years will remain chronically infected with HBV. By contrast, approximately 95 percent of adults recover completely from HBV infection and do not become chronically infected.
"Parents need to ensure that infants are given the first in a series of hepatitis B vaccines before they leave the hospital," said Health Commissioner Mary E. ODowd. "It is the best way to protect children from a disease that may cause life-long health complications."
Free hepatitis testing will be available to residents at events taking place during Hepatitis Awareness Month. Information on events in New Jersey is available at: http://www.cdcnpin.org/HTD/HTD.aspx
The Department is working to decrease the burden of hepatitis B through the New Jersey Hep-B Coalition that promotes awareness and testing of hepatitis B. Current members of the coalition include Barnabas Health, Holy Name Medical Center, Monmouth Medical Center, Saint Peters Healthcare System, the Monmouth County Health Department, the Englewood Health Department and the Paramcare Foundation. Providers looking to join the coalition should contact the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health at 609-292-6962 for additional information.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood through sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs, needlestick injuries in healthcare settings, being born to a mother with hepatitis C, or sharing personal care items with an infected person. Less commonly, people can be infected through sexual contact with an infected person.
Unlike hepatitis A, which does not cause a long-term infection, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can become chronic, life-long infections. Chronic viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems including liver cancer. More than 4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C in the United States, but most do not know they are infected. Each year, approximately 15,000 Americans die from liver cancer or chronic liver disease associated with viral hepatitis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone born during 1945 through 1965 get a blood test for hepatitis C. The baby boomer generation is five times more likely than other adults to be infected.
"New classes of drugs are being developed that promise a cure for Hepatitis C, and if you are a baby boomer you should be sure to get tested to determine if you have the illness so that you can discuss treatment options with your health care provider," Commissioner ODowd said.
Health care providers can register events for National Hepatitis Testing Day at: http://www.cdcnpin.org/htd/HTD.aspx
The American Association for the Study of Liver Disease is offering a free course for primary care clinicians on both Hepatitis B and C at: http://www.aasld.org/act/Pages/default.aspx
For more on hepatitis please visit the Department's hepatitis A B and C webpages: