State Health Department Issues Hepatitis Strategic Plan

May is National Hepatitis Awareness Month

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 06, 2010) - In recognition of Hepatitis Awareness Month the State Health Department (DOH) has issued an updated 2010-2015 Viral Hepatitis Strategic Plan to guide the State's efforts to prevent new hepatitis infections and improve the quality of life for thousands of New Yorkers living with chronic hepatitis.

"National Hepatitis Awareness Month highlights the need for continued strong efforts to address hepatitis viruses that can cause serious liver inflammation and, in the case of hepatitis B and C, lead to long-term chronic infections that can cause death," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "This updated Strategic Plan, developed by the department in collaboration with a diverse group of individuals, agencies and organizations, will guide those efforts."

The Viral Hepatitis Strategic Plan can be accessed on the DOH Web site at http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/hepatitis/strategic/.

Each year, about 15,000 people in the U.S. die from liver cancer or liver disease related to hepatitis B and C. Chronic hepatitis C is responsible for 40 to 60 percent of all liver disease and is the most frequent reason for liver transplants in adults. People infected with hepatitis A, B, or C may have no symptoms or develop mild to very serious illness that may include fever, jaundice (yellowing of skin), fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal discomfort.

Hepatitis A

An estimated three out of every 10 Americans have been infected at some point in their lives with hepatitis A, the most common type of hepatitis reported in the U.S. Hepatitis A is spread when someone consumes food or beverage that has been contaminated with the stool of a person who has the virus. There is an effective vaccine that protects against hepatitis A, which is recommended for all children at age 1. Individuals traveling to countries where hepatitis A is common are also recommended to be vaccinated or receive immune globulin before traveling.

Hepatitis B

Approximately 900,000 New Yorkers are infected with hepatitis B, the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is spread through contact with blood and body fluids of an infected person, which can occur through blood-to-blood contact, sex, sharing needles during injection drug use, exposure to needle sticks on the job, and from an infected mother to her infant during childbirth.

Among persons who become infected with hepatitis B, about 90 percent of infants, 30 to 50 percent of children, and 5 to 10 percent of adults go on to develop chronic infections that can lead to liver failure, cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. There is an effective vaccine to protect against hepatitis B infection, which is recommended for all newborns as well as children and adolescents up to the age of 18. The vaccine is also recommended for certain high-risk adults.

Hepatitis C

An estimated 300,000 New Yorkers have hepatitis C, of which nearly 80 percent have chronic infections. Hepatitis C spreads through contact with blood or body fluid from an infected person, which can occur through sharing needles during injection drug use, exposure to needle sticks on the job, or sometimes from an infected mother to her infant during birth. Though not common, it is possible to transmit hepatitis C during sex.

Others at risk for hepatitis C are: people who received blood transfusions, blood products or organ donations before June 1992, when effective tests for hepatitis C were introduced for blood screening; people who received clotting factors made before 1987; and long-term kidney dialysis patients.

Many individuals with hepatitis C have no symptoms, which is why the virus is often called the "silent epidemic." After the initial infection, 15 to 25 percent of individuals with hepatitis C recover, while 75 to 85 percent become chronically infected. About 70 percent of persons chronically infected with hepatitis C develop liver disease, sometimes decades after the initial infection. There currently is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C.

"All three hepatitis viruses are preventable," said Dr. Daines. "Every New Yorker should learn how to prevent exposure to these viruses and get early diagnosis and treatment when they think they may have been exposed."

More information about hepatitis A, B and C are available on the DOH Web site at nyhealth.gov/hepatitis. New Yorkers with questions about hepatitis C may call a toll-free hotline at 1-800-522-5006.