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Column: Hepatitis - a potentially silent yet deadly infection

4:33 PM, May 20, 2013  |  Comments
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Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can become chronic, lifelong infections that can lead to liver cancer. Millions of Americans are living with chronic viral hepatitis and many do not even know that they are infected.

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and it's a good time to increase awareness about this hidden epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, is leading a national campaign called Know More Hepatitis (www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis). The initiative aims to increase awareness about hepatitis. More than 75 percent of adults with Hepatitis C are baby boomers born from 1945 to 1965. Most of them don't even know they're infected. Visit the website mentioned above for a fact sheet and a video specific to baby boomers.

In Wood County, we are seeing a shocking increase in the diagnosis of Hepatitis C in young users of heroin. Sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia places people at high risk for contracting a number of communicable diseases, including hepatitis and HIV.

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Unlike Hepatitis A, which does not cause long-term infection, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can become chronic, lifelong infections. More than 4 million Americans are living with a chronic hepatitis infection, but most do not know they are infected. Chronic hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems including liver cancer. Each year, about 15,000 Americans die from liver cancer associated with hepatitis. Some population groups are affected at higher rates, including Asians and Pacific Islanders. Rates also are increasing among African Americans, baby boomers and men.

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccinations. The Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children at 1 year of age and for adults who may be at increased risk (www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/A/aFAQ.htm#vacWho). The Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and for adults who may be at increased risk (www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/B/bFAQ.htm#bFAQ33).

To see if you may be at risk for hepatitis, take the Hepatitis Risk Assessment available at www.cdc.gov/HEPATITIS/riskassessment. This tool allows people to answer questions privately, print their recommendations and discuss the results with their health care provider. Wood County Health Department offers free testing for Hepatitis C for people without health insurance.

For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/Hepatitis. If you have questions and do not have access to the internet (local libraries are a great place to get access), feel free to call the Wood County Health Department at 715-421-8911 or 715-387-8646.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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