May 19 Is World Hepatitis Day

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World Hepatitis Day is observed globally each May 19th to raise awareness of chronic viral hepatitis, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced today.

“World Hepatitis Day emphasizes the importance of testing for people who are at high risk, and is especially critical for those who have chronic viral hepatitis but who might not know they are infected,” said Jerry Gibson, M.D., director of DHEC’s Bureau of Disease Control. “Hepatitis C testing is offered routinely by DHEC clinics to people who qualify through a health department assessment of their risks for the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

“Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by HCV,” Dr. Gibson said. “Those who are at increased risk for hepatitis C include anyone with a history of injecting drugs and those who have been on long-term kidney dialysis. People who received organ or blood donations prior to July 1992, as well as those who were born to a mother who was infected with HCV, are also at risk.”

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no vaccine to prevent HCV, as there is for hepatitis A and B. People with HCV infection need to be monitored by a physician so they can receive treatment if their disease progresses. Many who have progressive HCV can live full and healthy lives if they complete medical therapy to fight the virus; however, if left untreated, HCV can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure and premature death.

Other facts about HCV:

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* HCV is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected.

* HCV is not spread by casual contact.

* HCV is not readily spread through sexual contact.

* HCV is referred to as a "silent epidemic."

* Many people do not have symptoms for decades after they are first infected.

* An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 South Carolinians are living with chronic HCV.

* Many people living with HCV are co-infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

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