The important part is that we can use this month to remind moms and dads that hepatitis is around and some of it can be prevented by vaccination.
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus that attacks the liver. It is not vaccine-preventable. If babies are infected it’s usually from their hepatitis C+ mothers or, and this is unlikely these days, from a blood transfusion. It’s unlikely because the screening process of donated blood is pretty darn thorough. But, germs have slipped through that screening process.
Teens and young adults may become infected, primarily through sharing of needles, sex with an HCV+ person, or sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes that may be contaminated with HCV.
There are effective treatments that work on a good portion of hepatitis C-infected children. But not on all infected children. Work is ongoing in this area.
Hepatitis C is frequently a chronic infection, meaning that if treatment is not effective, you will be infected for your lifetime.
Hepatitis A is vaccine-preventable. Normally, it’s passed person-to-person through the fecal-oral route, which is when something you eat or drink has been contaminated with hepatitis A+ poop. If you haven’t been vaccinated, chances are you will become infected.
This virus makes you feel lousy and can, rarely, do serious damage to the body. It does not become a chronic infection. It infects you and then goes away, like a cold virus.
Hepatitis B is vaccine-preventable. It’s transmitted in a lot of ways—mom to newborn, sharing needles or personal items, sex with an infected person, even household (nonsexual) contact. If a mom is aware of her infection prior to giving birth, shots can be given to the baby within 12 hours of birth that are effective at stopping tranmission of the virus from mom to baby. However, when babies are infected, almost half of them in the US will become chronically infected. In developing countries, that figure shoots up to 90 percent.
Today, despite the vaccine, approximately 1,000 babies become chronically infected with hepatitis B each year in the US. Many of the moms-to-be who are infected are unaware of their infection. Every pregnant woman should be tested for hepatitis B so that action can be taken at birth to prevent infection of the newborn.
Hepatitis D is an odd virus. You have to be infected with hepatitis B before you can get hepatitis D. It’s vaccine-preventable in that, if you get immunized against hepatitis B, you won’t be able to get hepatitis D.
Hepatitis E is similar to hepatitis A in the way it is transmitted—the fecal-oral route. It’s rarely a chronic infection. For most people, they get it, get sick, and get over it. It can however be dangerous for pregnant women, with a 10% – 30% fatality rate for this group. It’s not often found in the US but can be easily picked up in some other parts of the world.
That’s about it for hepatitis in the US. To prevent a hepatitis infection (and lots of other infections), wash your hands throughout the day, put barriers between yourself and another person’s blood or body fluid, and use the available vaccines. The trick is to do these things with everyone. It’s impossible to tell who is infected with what, most of the time, so the safest course of action is to assume everyone is infected with something and then act accordingly.
Got any tips? Hope you share them will us in the comments.
Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins