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Hepatitis Testing Day: Increased Testing Can Save Lives

MAY 19, 2017 | KRISTI ROSA
In the United States, millions of Americans are living with chronic viral hepatitis. The worst part? Most of these individuals are not even aware they are infected.
 
Each year, the month of May is designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month in the United States, and today, May 19, is Hepatitis Testing Day. Shedding light on this somewhat “hidden” epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with public health partners, are channeling their efforts into promoting viral hepatitis awareness and urging those who are at increased risk of infection to get tested.
 
In honor of Hepatitis Testing Day, the CDC has highlighted four factors that everyone should know about viral hepatitis. They are as follows:
 
1. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are all different diseases.
The three most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States are hepatitis A, B, and C and they are each caused by a different virus and transmitted in different ways. Oftentimes, hepatitis A is transmitted through consuming contaminated food or water. These infections are highly contagious—outbreaks continually pepper headlines—but they do not cause long-term infection.
 
Hepatitis B is often transmitted when infected bodily fluids, such as blood or semen enter the body of someone who is not infected. And, finally, most individuals who are infected with hepatitis C contracted the virus from sharing needles or through other equipment that is used to inject drugs. Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B and C can turn into long-term, chronic infections that could lead to serious health complications, even death.
 
2. Chronic hepatitis is a leading cause of liver cancer.
According to a CDC Fact Sheet, the number of individuals with liver cancer is on the rise “and the rate of deaths due to liver cancer is increasing faster than for any other type of cancer.” Individuals infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are at greatest risk of liver cancer. The CDC reports that in the United States, about 65% of liver cancer cases are linked to hepatitis B or C infection; 50% of those cases are attributed to hepatitis C. These numbers underscore the need for increased testing and prevention efforts. The CDC reports that hepatitis B testing and follow-up therapy has shown to reduce the risk of liver cancer by 50-80%.  
 
3. Most people with chronic hepatitis do not know they are infected.
The CDC estimates that a staggering four million Americans are currently living with chronic hepatitis in the United States and the majority of them do not even know that they are infected. Since many individuals do not experience any telltale symptoms of infection, they can go years, or even decades, without actually feeling sick.

4. Getting tested could save your life.
Although there are treatments available for hepatitis B and hepatitis C, they are of no use if individuals remain unaware of their infections. Chronic infection can lead to serious health complications and so, getting tested and following up with treatment could potentially mean the difference between life and death. To this end, the CDC provides the public with a Hepatitis Risk Assessment that individuals can take to find out if they should get tested. After answering a series of questions, individuals are provided with “tailored recommendations” that they should then discuss with their healthcare providers.
 
The CDC encouraged everyone to “Be #HepAware,” on Hepatitis Testing Day, and to participate in the Be #HepAware Thunderclap—a campaign promoting awareness and encouraging those at risk to get tested. Individuals showed their support by sharing these important take-home messages through various social media platforms. The campaign ended at 12 PM EDT but more than doubled its intended goal of 100 supporters; 255 supporters shared the message and thus, a whopping 2,591,588 individuals were reached through the social media channels. In case you missed the opportunity to participate in the Thunderclap, the CDC has several materials that can still be shared to spread the word!
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