OPINION

Health and Wellness: Hepatitis can’t wait

Ann Cochran - Dallas County Health Department
Special to Dallas County News and Perry Chief

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 worldhepatitisalliance.org/what-viral-hepatitis-0 for more. 

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. 

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, in 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, their newborn needs to receive hepatitis B immune globulin and hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth. Follow up HBV vaccines at one to two months, and six months are also done at baby’s regular check-ups. Adult treatment usually involves just 8-12 weeks of pills and cures over 90% with few side effects. 

Two groups in Iowa are most likely to be infected: baby boomers, who are those born between 1945 and 1964; and persons younger than age 40 who have used injection drugs or have had sex with an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a one-time blood screening for baby boomers who ever in their life 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.