The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is encouraging people to talk with a health care provider to see if they should be tested or vaccinated for hepatitis A, B, or C. Viral hepatitis is caused by several different viruses that can infect the liver. Each virus is transmitted differently, though in general, they are highly transmissible through bodily fluids, sexual contact, and contaminated water.
“A person with hepatitis B or C may not show symptoms for years or decades,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D. “According to the World Health Organization, at least 60 percent of liver cancer cases are due to late testing and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C. Timely testing and treatment can save lives, so for World Hepatitis Day this year, find out if you should be tested.”
Viral hepatitis affects millions of people worldwide, causing both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) liver disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C. Viral hepatitis causes more than one million deaths per year, a number comparable to deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined. While deaths from tuberculosis and HIV have been declining, deaths from hepatitis are increasing. Annually, hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease.
In Illinois, the number of reported cases of hepatitis C increased by 43 percent from 6,887 in 2006 to 9,838 in 2017. Many of the cases in individuals younger than 35 years of age have been linked to injection drug use. The rise in hepatitis C cases corresponds with the opioid epidemic in Illinois.
Various blood tests are available to diagnose cases of hepatitis. Factors that increase risk of hepatitis A, B, and C infection include: use of injectable drugs, sexual contact with an infected partner, previous diagnosis of HIV, chronic liver disease, and clotting-factor disorders.
Both hepatitis A and B are preventable with vaccination. Direct treatment for hepatitis A is not currently available, but there is a highly effective vaccine that individuals with risk factors should get. Hepatitis B, similar to hepatitis C, is treatable with prescription antiviral medications.