FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 19, 2010
Contact: OPHS Press Office
Statement from Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, Regarding World Hepatitis Awareness Day
Honoring Hepatitis Awareness Month in May and marking World Hepatitis Awareness Day on May 19 are critical ways to raise awareness and understanding about the global burden of viral hepatitis.
Chronic viral hepatitis, liver inflammation caused by a virus, is globally the cause of most liver cancer as well as the most common reason for liver transplantation. Because of the asymptomatic nature of this infection, most people with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are unaware that they have been infected.
Hepatitis affects people from all walks of life. According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 3.5 to 5.3 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B and C virus infections. The good news is that many cases are preventable and many people with the infection can be treated effectively.
The Federal government is working to reduce chronic viral hepatitis among all U.S. populations. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has convened an intradepartmental viral hepatitis working group to improve the public health response to this disease. We are also collaborating with numerous partners to increase access to quality health care and reduce the health effects from viral hepatitis for all. Working together, we can make significant strides.
We would like to thank our many partners who are working tirelessly to raise the awareness of hepatitis and end the stigma. Unfortunately, a lack of education and awareness among the general population can mean discrimination and emotional isolation for too many infected.
Every person can contribute to the prevention of hepatitis by beginning to increase his or her own understanding. If you have concerns about hepatitis or believe you may be infected, consult with your health care provider. If your health care provider confirms a hepatitis infection, make sure you understand whether it is acute or chronic and the infection type (hepatitis B, C, or another type). Also ask how long you may have had the disease and what are the potential symptoms.
You can also reduce your risk of becoming infected. For instance, if you work in a health care setting, follow your institution's safety guidelines. Wear protective gloves and clothing and dispose of needles and other contaminated sharp objects properly. If you happen to undergo a procedure that involves the use of needles (e.g. local anesthesia, tattoos, body piercing), make sure the provider or practitioner sterilizes the instruments and supplies. All pregnant women should ask to be screened for hepatitis B before giving birth. If you may have been exposed to hepatitis B, have a conversation with your doctor so you can get tested. Take care at home - the disease can be spread by sharing razors, toothbrushes, or needles with anyone who has the disease. Anyone seeking protection should be vaccinated for hepatitis B, three doses if you haven’t been vaccinated already. Parents are advised to fully vaccinate their children to protect them before they enter school. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.
I urge all of you, not only this month, but all year long to learn more about chronic viral hepatitis and work toward better care for patients and better prevention for future generations. Have a conversation with your healthcare provider, and ask if you should be tested for viral hepatitis.
For more information about hepatitis risks, prevention, treatment and related information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/
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Last revised: May 7, 2011