Hepatitis is On the Rise: Get Tested on National Testing Day, May 19

From New River Health District

May 19 is National Hepatitis Testing Day in the United States. This designation emphasizes the importance of testing persons at risk for hepatitis, most of whom are unaware of their infection status. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common form of viral hepatitis in the United States. It causes approximately 19,000 deaths per year. From 2010 to 2015, HCV cases increased nearly 300 per cent nationally, with the largest increases among young persons who inject drugs.

“Testing, prevention and treatment are effective measures against hepatitis, which is a significant public health threat in the United States, in Virginia and in the New River Valley,” said Noelle Bissell, M.D., director, New River Health District. “In Virginia, the total number of hepatitis infections is 50 per cent higher thus far in 2017 compared with the average number for the same period in the five preceding years.”

“This month and especially on Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, learn more about the different types of viral hepatitis,” Dr. Bissell continued. “Call your health care provider or local health department to find out if you should be tested or vaccinated.”

The CDC also offers a quick, online hepatitis risk assessment tool at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment.

There are several types of hepatitis. While they can produce similar symptoms, each virus affects the liver differently, has different routes of transmission and commonly affects different populations. Hepatitis can be transmitted in food, water, drinks, stool, blood and other body fluids, via pregnancy and childbirth, sexual contact, tattoos, injection drug use or by sharing personal items such as razors, syringes, needles, toothbrushes and nail clippers. Hepatitis illness can range from mild to severe; the duration can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic).

For reasons that are not completely understood, baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, are five times more likely to have HCV. Unlike hepatitis A and B viruses, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C so it’s especially important to take precautions to prevent exposure to HCV.

“Get tested. Know your status. Get vaccinated, and get treatment if you need it,” said Dr. Bissell.

For more information, call the New River Health District at 540-585-3300 or contact your local health department. See www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts.