Are you fully vaccinated against hepatitis A and B? A surprising number of hepatitis cases are diagnosed each year, with more than 100,000 new patients in the United States contracting a variant of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Half of those cases are vaccine-preventable illnesses; the other half, hepatitis C, are only preventable through safety practices to limit exposure, as a vaccine is not yet available.
May is National Hepatitis Awareness Month and calls for disease reduction rely on vaccines to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of cutting case counts by 2030.
What to know about hepatitis
Many adults age 25+ were not immunized in early childhood
Because hepatitis A and B vaccines are relatively recent additions to the CDC’s Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule, many adults may have simply missed getting immunized against these diseases. The CDC lists vaccination rates for hepatitis A and B as “low,” a concerning issue for public health professionals.
The hepatitis B vaccine has been available since 1986 but the hepatitis A vaccine did not become licensed for use until 1995. Newborn babies are now immunized against hepatitis B at birth as the first of a three-dose series administered by 18 months, while the hepatitis A vaccine is usually part of well child check-ups between ages 1 and 2.
Healthy adults can catch up on missed vaccines at almost any phase of life. Pregnant women or women planning a pregnancy who have not been vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B should receive each series, preferably with six months between doses of the same variant.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
Nausea, poor appetite and jaundice are shared signs among all three variants.
Sallow yellow skin often occurs because of the impact of hepatitis on liver function.
Mild cases of hepatitis A and B may be confused with seasonal illness, as many resolve on their own within weeks or months. Hepatitis C can be more severe despite an initial lack of symptoms.
The CDC estimates only half of patients are aware they have hepatitis and children under age 6 rarely show any symptoms. The disease can take decades to be detectable, which underscores the urgency of vaccination to stop the spread.
How does hepatitis spread?
Hepatitis A spreads through contact with bacteria found in fecal matter, which comes into public life through a variety of everyday sources, including swimming pools, food service, diaper changes in shared spaces or close contact with a person who has the disease. The CDC recommends thorough handwashing as a preventive measure but vaccination is the most effective means of prevention. See the list of individuals at higher risk.
Hepatitis B spreads through contact with blood and other body fluids. Sharing hygiene items and medical devices, such as razors, toothbrushes or glucose monitors, can also cause infection. The CDC estimates hepatitis B affects more than 350 million people worldwide.
Hepatitis C is caused by contact with infected blood. It is possible to spread hepatitis C through intravenous drug use, sexual activity, blood transfusions or by being born to a mother who has the disease. Find out about its prevalence among Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials.
Check your immunization records, plan to get vaccinated