The recent outbreak of hepatitis A in parts of South Carolina put health officials on high alert, but hepatitis A isn’t the only strain of hepatitis on the radar of infectious disease specialists.
Hepatitis C is on the rise among younger people in the Florence area, an increase attributable to the opioid epidemic and increased testing.
The vast majority of my hepatitis patients have hepatitis C. Patients range from age 20 through their 40s, but the number of young people is increasing because of opioid use.
The news isn’t all bleak, and as countries around the world observe World Hepatitis Day today, here’s a message for the public: Hepatitis A, B and C are treatable and curable, and A and B are preventable with a vaccine. For these reasons people should consider getting vaccinated.
A blood test is available for A, B and C, and we urge screening for anyone who is concerned about symptoms or in a high-risk category. Early diagnosis is important. It’s important that we catch people before they develop complications.
Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to chronic liver disease. Five viruses have been identified: A, B, C, D and E.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected individual. People can become infected through sharing equipment used to prepare and inject drugs. Most people who become infected lack any symptoms and, thus, develop a chronic infection that can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. This is a permanent liver problem that persists for the person’s life and might lead to liver cancer and other medical problems.
Medications on the market can stop the virus from replicating. The treatment lasts eight weeks, and the cure rate is 97-99 percent.
Among those at risk for hepatitis C are individuals who use or have used injectable drugs, have HIV or AIDS, have liver disease, have received donated blood or organs before 1992 and have been exposed to blood through a needle stick or injury with a sharp object.
Hepatitis B is primarily spread through blood or other body fluids and can also be transmitted from an infected mother to infant at birth and through injection drug use, as well as tattoo needles, unsterile medical equipment and sexual contact.
Hepatitis D can be contracted only by someone with hepatitis B. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots and is thought to give lifelong prevention. Treatment can last from six months to several years.
Hepatitis A lives in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and is spread when someone ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. A two-dose vaccination series for hepatitis A should be strongly considered before any planned foreign travel to prevent someone from being infected.
In the United States, it may be spread by close personal contact with someone infected. Hepatitis A doesn’t cause a chronic, lifelong infection and is rarely fatal. The vaccine, given in a single dose, is safe and has a 95-percent protection rate.
Hepatitis E is commonly found in areas that lack clean water and sanitation.
Vaccines for hepatitis A and B are available at the MUSC Health-Infectious Disease clinic and Travel Medicine clinic at MUSC Health Florence Medical Center. And for someone diagnosed with hepatitis A, B and C, we stress: A, B and C are curable but must be diagnosed and treated early enough to prevent injury and cirrhosis.
Dr. Temujin Chavez is an infectious disease specialist at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center. He is accepting patients at MUSC Health-Infectious Disease and MUSC Health-Travel Medicine clinics at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center. For more information, call 843-674-6400 or visit MUSChealth.org/Florence.