World Hepatitis Day, July 27, is an annual event that provides international focus to raise awareness and influence a change in disease prevention and access to testing and treatment.
"Hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver and also refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver. The most common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants.
Hepatitis A can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. It is usually spread when a person ingests viruses found in fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts. Infection can occur from oral contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated by the stool of an infected person.
Hepatitis B can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It is usually spread when blood, semen or another body fluid from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles, syringes or other drug-injection equipment. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
Acute hepatitis B is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after someone is exposed to the virus. Acute infection can, but does not always lead to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B is a long-term illness that occurs when the virus remains in a person's body. It is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems and even death.
Hepatitis C can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It is usually spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. Most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Less frequently, it can be passed through sexual contact or from mother to baby at birth.
Acute hepatitis C is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after someone is exposed to the virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection, which is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems or death.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C; the best way to prevent it is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injection drug use.
The Niagara County Department of Health's nursing division's STD clinic provides testing for hepatitis C for high-risk individuals. Hepatitis A and B vaccine is also offered in STD and immunization clinics. STD clinics are held every Monday and Wednesday, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. No appointment is necessary. Immunization clinics are by appointment only and can be made by calling 716-278-1903.