‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait’ for treatment, cure

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World Hepatitis Day is observed each July 28. The 2021 theme, “Hepatitis Can’t Wait,” refers to the importance of timely testing, treatment and prevention of this disease, even in the midst of the COVID pandemic. See the World Hepatitis Alliance website for more information.

Hepatitis is of grave concern because of the damage it causes to the liver. There are five types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E, with A, B and C the most common. For instance, there are approximately 12,600 Iowans currently infected with hepatitis C, according to state data.

Hepatitis B and C viruses are spread through infected blood, tattoos or other body fluids. Pregnant women can pass the disease to their unborn child. Therefore, all pregnant women should be tested during the first trimester for Hepatitis B and if there are risk factors, they may also be tested for Hepatitis C.

If positive for type B, newborns need to receive HBIG (Hepatitis B Immune Globulin) and HBV (Hepatitis B Vaccine) within 12 hours of birth. Follow-up HBV vaccines at 1 to 2 months and 6 months are also done at a baby’s regular check-ups. Adult treatment usually involves just eight to –12 weeks of pills and cures more than 90% of cases with few side effects.

Two groups in Iowa are most likely to be infected: baby boomers born between 1945 and 1964 and persons under age 40 who have used injection drugs or have had sex with an infected person.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a one-time blood screening for baby boomers who have ever in their lives received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 or ever injected drugs. The screening can be done at your regular clinic.

Most adults with hepatitis B recover fully. Infants and children are more likely to develop chronic (long-term) infection. Hepatitis C may be a short-term illness but often leads to chronic infection, especially if untreated.

Ann Cochran is the health navigation coordinator in the Dallas County Public Health Department.

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