America's Silent Epidemic: Viral Hepatitis

Contact: Angela Minicuci (517) 241-2112

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 23, 2012

LANSING - Viral hepatitis is a silent epidemic in the United States with more than 4 million Americans living with chronic hepatitis, and many not knowing it. As May is observed as Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are encouraging families to protect themselves from hepatitis disease.

"Viral hepatitis is known to cause liver cancer and chronic liver disease; conditions that nearly 15,000 Americans die from every year," said Dr. Dean Sienko, interim chief medical executive at MDCH. "Hepatitis is not something people should take lightly, and if anyone feels they are at risk, we strongly encourage them to visit their doctor."

Viral hepatitis is caused by a virus that infects the liver. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common and there is vaccine to protect against Hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis C can be cured, and all forms of hepatitis are treatable.

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is spread by eating food or drinking water with HAV in it or by contact with fecal matter from persons who have the virus. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is spread through contact with blood or body fluids of an HBV infected person, unprotected sex, or from infected mothers to their infants at birth. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread through contact with the blood of an HCV infected person or by sharing syringes or drug equipment with someone who has HCV. People may already have HCV if they received blood, blood products or had an organ transplant before 1992 or received clotting factor produced before 1987.

CDC's Know More Hepatitis initiative aims to decrease the burden of chronic Hepatitis C by increasing awareness and encouraging people to get tested. Some people with hepatitis may never show any symptoms of having the disease. Without a blood test to confirm they are infected, they could spread the disease unknowingly to others. Early detection and treatment can help reduce disease progression.

The CDC's online Hepatitis Risk Assessment tool (www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment) can help determine if hepatitis testing and vaccination is recommended. This tool allows you to privately enter information and receive recommendations based on CDC's guidelines. Talk to your doctor about ways to protect your family from hepatitis.

For more information about Hepatitis Awareness Month, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HepAwarenessMonth.htm, or for information about the CDC's Know More Hepatitis initiative, visit www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis.

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