Viral Hepatitis Can Be Serious, Overlooked and Prevented

May 8, 2017

A leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants, viral hepatitis is a potentially serious infection that can be serious, overlooked and largely prevented, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

Debi Anderson, Communicable Disease Unit manager with WDH, said people with hepatitis B and C have a greater risk of liver cancer and liver transplants. “In fact, more than 60 percent of liver cancer cases are caused by hepatitis B or C.”

Symptoms of hepatitis B and C include fever, vomiting, nausea, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine and clay-colored stools. “It’s common for infected individuals to not have any symptoms. They don’t know they are infected and that’s why getting tested is the only way to know,” Anderson said.

In 2016, there were 34 cases of hepatitis B reported to WDH. Up to 25 percent of people with hepatitis B develop serious liver problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all people born in Asia and the Pacific Islands get tested as well as individuals with certain risks. These risk factors include: travelers to regions with high rates of hepatitis B, men who have sex with men, injection drug users, household contacts of infected persons, infants born to infected mothers, sex partners of infected persons, persons with a sexually transmitted disease, healthcare and public safety workers exposed to blood on the job, hemodialysis patients and residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled persons.

WDH received reports of 491 cases of hepatitis C in 2016. Most people living with hepatitis C do not know they are infected and many can live with hepatitis C for decades without symptoms. Left untreated, hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage and liver failure. The CDC recommends all people born from 1945 to 1965 be tested for hepatitis C as well as individuals with certain risk factors such as injection drug users, infants born to infected mothers, recipients of clotting factor concentrates before 1987, persons with known exposures to hepatitis C, HIV-infected individuals and recipients of blood transfusions or donated organs before July 1992.

Anderson said people born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than other adults. “In fact, nearly three in four people with hepatitis C were born during this period. The boomer generation may have been exposed to infected blood before certain safety precautions were adopted for medical procedures, body piercings and tattoos,” she said.

Prevention strategies for viral hepatitis include:

  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis B.
  • Use condoms with oral, anal and vaginal sex.
  • Don’t share needles for drug equipment.
  • Don’t share razors or toothbrushes with anyone who is infected.

To learn more about viral hepatitis and prevention, visit www.knowyo.org or contact a medical professional. The www.knowyo.org site also provides a voucher code for free or low-cost syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV and hepatitis testing that can be used in many locations across Wyoming.