Hepatitis Can Damage Liver Without Symptoms

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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In Florida, an estimated 300,000 individuals are infected with chronic hepatitis C. Most of them do not know because they have no symptoms. Floridians may not even be aware of factors that put them at risk, such as a blood transfusion before 1992, sharing a needle to inject drugs (even one time 30 years ago), or long-term kidney dialysis. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) encourages individuals to get tested to learn their status.

The word hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver,” but a person could live without symptoms for up to 30 years. By the time symptoms appear, the liver is usually severely damaged and may need to be replaced.

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Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States. Hepatitis A (HAV) is spread by consuming contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood and body fluids. Hepatitis C (HCV) is spread through contact with blood containing the virus.

Both hepatitis A and B are vaccine preventable, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Fortunately, testing in Florida is increasing to help more people learn their status. “In 2008, over 34,000 Florida residents were tested for hepatitis A, B and C through public health programs, nearly 10,000 more than were tested in 2007,” said Tom Liberti, Chief of the DOH Bureau of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.

It is also vital that people with hepatitis C get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B to avoid being co-infected with two different types of hepatitis, causing liver failure. Florida has been a leader in the distribution of hepatitis A and B vaccine to adults. “Giving vaccine works because we’ve seen case levels of hepatitis A and B drop in Florida,” said Liberti. “In the past eight years (2001-2008), acute hepatitis B cases have decreased by 49 percent, and hepatitis A cases have dropped by 84 percent.”

The Florida Department of Health joins the world on Tuesday, May 19, in asking “Am I Number 12?” to increase awareness of the sobering statistic that one in 12 people in the world are living with hepatitis B or C. A press conference will be held in St. Petersburg to observe World Hepatitis Day and recognize the need for strong hepatitis prevention education.

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