Celebrated around the globe on July 28, World Hepatitis Day is dedicated to raising awareness about the causes and prevention of viral hepatitis infections. Viral hepatitis is caused by five distinct hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D, and E. Infection from these viruses causes acute and chronic liver disease and results in nearly 1.5 million deaths each year, mostly from hepatitis B and C.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. More than 80% of adults with hepatitis A have symptoms, but the majority of children do not. In the US, the hepatitis A vaccine is routinely given during childhood but may be recommended to adolescents and adults with certain medical conditions that place them at high risk for infection.
While there is a safe and effective hepatitis B vaccine which is given to all newborns in the US, approximately 1.2 million people in the US are living with chronic hepatitis B. Most were infected before the vaccine was available and widely used. Once the vaccine was in use, hepatitis B infections among children and adolescents decreased by 95% but there are still high rates of infection in the US among Asian and Pacific Islanders, accounting for more than 50% of those living with chronic hepatitis B.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hepatitis B testing for all individuals born in countries where hepatitis B is common; all those born in the US who were not vaccinated at birth and who have at least one parent born in a county with high hepatitis B rates; and those living with someone who has hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through infected needles or, before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992, was frequently spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Additionally, although uncommon, outbreaks of hepatitis C have occurred from poor infection control in healthcare settings and, in rare cases, may be sexually transmitted.
In the US, people born between 1945-1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C. CDC recommends testing for all individuals born during this time period. Getting the hepatitis C antibody test is the only way to confirm infection.
Hepatitis D is uncommon in the US, as it only occurs among people who are infected with hepatitis B (HBV). There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis D, but it can be prevented in persons who are not already HBV-infected by hepatitis B vaccination. Hepatitis E is also rare in the US but it is still common in many parts of the world and is primarily transmitted via contaminated water. There is currently no approved vaccine for hepatitis E in the US.
It is important to be aware of hepatitis and to learn how you can protect yourself and others from being infected. The best way to protect yourself and others from hepatitis viruses is to get vaccinated as recommended and practice safe habits while travelling. For more information about hepatitis, visit nfid.org.