The ABCs Of Hepatitis

By Matara Wright

In the wake of campaign season, one of the hot button issues is public health. Everybody’s talking about it: politicians, public officials, teachers, doctors, families and neighbors. But as we continue to debate over health care plans and how to pay for health care, some of the basics are going unnoticed, such as the actual biological issues concerning health in the United States. At the moment, viral hepatitis affects more individuals in the United States than HIV/AIDS but less attention is paid to this current issue in public health. There are currently 5 types of hepatitis: A,B,C,D, and E. All strands of the virus infect the liver and could possibly lead to death. However, in the United States, A, B and C most affect our population. Hispanics are disproportionately affected by Hepatitis compared with their Caucasian and African American counterparts being infected at a younger age and with infection rates increasing more rapidly than any other racial group. Why is so little attention paid to this health issue that teeter totters on reaching epidemic proportions? Lack of education appears to be the main culprit. Therefore, in lieu of National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day, let’s take a moment to review our Hepatitis A B C’s:

Hepatitis A (HAV)- transmitted through anal-oral contact, contaminated food/water. Hepatitis A can be prevented via vaccination.

Hepatitis B (HBV)- contagious and transmitted through blood, semen and bodily fluids. Can be transmitted through sexual contact (yes, oral sex is sex), manicure equipment and needle sharing. Hepatitis B is broken into 2 classifications: acute and chronic. Acute HBV occurs when an individual is infected within six months of exposure. If not treated, HBV can become chronic, remaining in the individual’s system for an extended period of time. Hepatitis B can also be prevented via vaccination.

Hepatitis C (HCV; also known as the main culprit)- the most common form of Hepatitis in the U.S. More than 3.2 million Americans are currently infected with HCV. Hepatitis C is five times more prevalent than HIV. Hepatitis C can be transmitted through sexual contact, manicure equipment, barber equipment and needle sharing. So tell your stylist to keep more than your edge up clean. HCV can result in liver scarring alcohol makes this condition worse. Individuals infected with HCV are often asymptomatic and may not know their status until it is too late.

HCV can be cured but there is no vaccine.

To prevent and reduce your chances of contracting viral hepatitis, get vaccinated for HAV and HBV. Avoid sharing needles and having unprotected oral, anal and vaginal sex. Ensure that that the barber and nail technician have thoroughly disinfected all clippers and manicure equipment. If you get any tattoos, check for licensure of the parlor. Once you have taken these precautions, get tested. St. Hope provides routine HCV testing at all locations. If you test positive, don’t worry; treatment is available for Hepatitis and it can be cured.