HARRISBURG, Pa., May 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends immunization of children and adults at the highest risk for hepatitis during "Hepatitis Awareness Month" and "World Hepatitis Day" on May 19.
Boosting public awareness of hepatitis can decrease the occurrence of new infections and prevent the complications of the disease by encouraging more people to be tested and immunized, according to Secretary of Health Everette James.
"Many people don't realize the seriousness of contracting hepatitis," said James. "Yet it continues to be a significant problem, despite being highly preventable."
The term "hepatitis" refers to a group of viral infections that cause liver inflammation. The three most common viruses that affect the liver are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A is most frequently acquired by ingesting trace amounts of fecal matter through direct contact with an infected person or in contaminated food and drink. Hepatitis B and C are spread through contact with infected blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B can also be passed from mother to child during birth.
An estimated 85,000 people become infected with hepatitis every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis A occurs in an "acute form" that lasts for about two months. In contrast, hepatitis B and C can develop into chronic conditions. About 15 to 25 percent of people with chronic hepatitis infection will become seriously ill with conditions such as chronic liver inflammation, cirrhosis, and liver cancer that can lead to death or transplantation. Since people with chronic hepatitis B and C can live for years without realizing they are infected, they may unknowingly pass the virus to others.
The best way to prevent hepatitis A and B is to get vaccinated. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, disease spread can be prevented. Sharing needles or personal items that may come into contact with blood (i.e. razors, nail clippers) and improperly performed tattoos and piercings are ways of contracting hepatitis C. Avoiding these risks is the best means of prevention.
The Department of Health urges those who are at risk for hepatitis to talk to their health care provider about getting tested. The department recommends that all children get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B as well as those adults at the highest risk of infection.
For more information on hepatitis awareness and prevention, contact the Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH or visit www.health.state.pa.us.
Media contact: Holli Senior, 717-787-1783
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Health