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Atrium Health Navicent Calls Attention to Hepatitis on World Hepatitis Day

Atrium Health Navicent invites the community to recognize World Hepatitis Day on July 28, and use the day to educate people about hepatitis infections and actions individuals can take to prevent these infections.

Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, affects 354 million people worldwide and is most often caused by a virus. In the U.S., the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, B and C.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2.4 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C, and many don’t know they are infected. Most people with chronic hepatitis C will not have symptoms for 20 years or more.

Even without symptoms, serious damage to your liver can occur. Hepatitis C is the most common cause necessitating liver transplants and a leading cause of liver cancer.

Although each type of hepatitis produces similar symptoms — including fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and dark urine — each hepatitis virus affects the liver differently, has different routes of transmission and infection, and typically affects different populations. Fortunately, effective vaccines are available to help prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Although no vaccine is available for hepatitis C, life-saving treatment can cure the virus.

Learn more about each type of hepatitis:

Hepatitis A

• Vaccine-preventable

• Found in the stool and blood of people who are infected

• Most people do not have long-lasting illness

• Hepatitis A incidence increased 1,325 percent from 2015 through 2019, according to the CDC. The increase in 2019 was because of unprecedented person-to-person outbreaks reported in 31 states primarily among people who use drugs and people experiencing homelessness.

• Groups most affected are white men, ages 30-39

• Georgia reported 844 cases in 2019, well above the national average

Hepatitis B

• Vaccine-preventable.

• Spread is through contact with blood, semen or other body fluids from an infected person. This can happen through sexual contact, sharing drug-injection equipment or from mother to baby at birth.

• For many people, it’s a short-term illness. For some, it can become a long-term, chronic infection that can lead to serious, even life-threatening health issues like cirrhosis or liver cancer.

• According to the CDC, about 66 percent of people with hepatitis B are unaware of their infection.

• Although the groups most affected are white men, ages 40-49, Black individuals have a higher hepatitis B-related mortality rate compared to white individuals.

• Georgia reported 114 cases in 2019, which is slightly above the national average.

Hepatitis C

• Spread is through contact with blood from an infected person. Most people become infected by sharing equipment used to prepare and inject drugs.

• For more than half of people who become infected, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious, even life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer.

• The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs.

• Getting tested is important, because treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.

• An estimated 40 percent of people living with hepatitis C do not know they are infected.

• Black individuals have a higher hepatitis C-related mortality rate compared to white individuals.

• Georgia reported 61 cases in 2019, which is less than the national average. Vaccination is available for hepatitis A and B, and is provided as part of routine childhood well-visits.

Adults who have not been vaccinated can also receive the vaccine.

The CDC recommends that all individuals over age 18 and all pregnant women be routinely screened for hepatitis C and at-risk people be screened for hepatitis B. “If you think you may be at risk for hepatitis, discuss your concerns with a primary care provider who can assist with testing,” said Dr. Ritu Kumar, an Atrium Health Navicent infectious disease specialist. ”By preventing hepatitis infections through vaccination, and treating infections discovered through testing, we can fight this disease and help individuals live healthier lives.”

World Hepatitis Day is recognized annually on July 28, the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg. Dr. Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967, and two years later he developed the first hepatitis B vaccine. These achievements culminated in Dr. Blumberg winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976. To find a doctor, visit www.NavicentHealth.org and click “Find A Doctor.”

About Atrium Health Navicent

Atrium Health Navicent is the leading provider of healthcare in central and south Georgia and is committed to its mission of elevating health and wellbeing through compassionate care. Atrium Health Navicent provides high-quality, personalized care in 53 specialties at more than 50 facilities throughout the region. As part of the largest, integrated, nonprofit health system in the Southeast, it is also able to tap into some of the nation’s leading medical experts and specialists with Atrium Health, allowing it to provide the best care close to home – including advanced innovations in virtual medicine and care. Throughout its 125-year history in the community, Atrium Health Navicent has remained dedicated to enhancing health and wellness for individuals throughout the region through nationally recognized quality care, community health initiatives and collaborative partnerships. It is also one of the leading teaching hospitals in the region, helping to ensure viability for rural health care for the next generation. For more information, please visit www.NavicentHealth.org.