More than four million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; however, more than 50 percent of them do not know it. To help increase awareness, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) are joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to proclaim May as Hepatitis Awareness Month. Michiganders are urged to participate in Hepatitis Testing Day on Saturday, May 19 if they feel they might be at risk of contracting the disease.
Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
“People can live for decades without symptoms, but over time chronic hepatitis can cause serious health problems,” said Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS chief medical executive. “Michigan residents are urged to learn the facts about hepatitis, particularly the steps they should take to protect themselves and how to identify their risk of the disease.”
The Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) is found in the feces (poop) of people with hepatitis A. HAV can spread through contaminated food or water and through close contact with a person who has the virus. Michigan has been experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A since August 2016. As of May 16, 2018, there have been 836 reported cases, 671 hospitalizations and 27 deaths.
Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease and MDHHS encourages HAV vaccination for at-risk individuals including those with history of injection and non-injection drug use, homelessness or transient housing, incarceration and men who have sex with men.
The Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) is transmitted from person to person through contaminated blood or body fluids. HBV can spread from infected mothers to their infants at birth, through unprotected sex or through contact with blood or body fluids of a person who has the virus. In Michigan, new HBV diagnoses have declined, likely as a result of HBV vaccination efforts, with 1,301 newly reported cases in 2017. However, there remains a large burden of HBV in developing countries and immigrant populations. Although they make up only 3 percent of Michigan’s population, persons of the Asian race represented nearly 30 percent of all new HBV diagnoses reported in 2017.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is a blood-borne pathogen; however, unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine available for HCV. HCV is transmitted from person to person through the contaminated blood of an individual who is infected. The primary risk factor for HCV transmission is sharing needles, syringes or drug preparation equipment. Michigan has seen HCV cases increase along with a rise in drug poisoning deaths involving prescription and non-prescription opioids.
In 2016, there were 1,733 opioid-overdose deaths reported compared to 639 in 2010. These numbers mirror a similar increase in HCV infections among adults aged 18-29 years old. In 2017, 1,985 persons aged 18-29 were newly diagnosed with HCV, compared to 882 in 2010.
People can live with hepatitis B and C for decades without experiencing any symptoms or feeling sick. The only way to know if you are infected is with a blood test. Early detection, linkage to care and treatment can help slow disease progression. HCV treatments cure more than 90 percent of persons living with HCV.
In recognition of Hepatitis Awareness Month, MDHHS urges all Michigan residents to:
- Learn the facts about hepatitis at Michigan.gov/hepatitis or Cdc.gov/hepatitis.
- Learn your risk for hepatitis and take the CDC’s 5-minute online Hepatitis Risk Assessment tool Cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment.
- Get tested if you are at risk. Ask your healthcare provider for the test or find a hepatitis B or C testing and treatment site near you using the CDC’s testing site locator Gettested.cdc.gov.
- Protect yourself and your loved ones from hepatitis B. Ask your healthcare provider for the hepatitis B vaccine.
- Find out if you are at-risk for hepatitis A by visiting Michigan.gov/hepatitisAoutbreak. If you are at risk, get vaccinated.