To put it simply, Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Unfortunately, nothing about Hepatitis is simple. According to the World Hepatitis Alliance, Hepatitis is a disease that that currently affects more than 500 million people around the world and is responsible for approximately 1.5 million deaths a year. Currently the world’s 8th biggest killer, Viral hepatitis is one of the most underestimated diseases on the planet. Although one in three people around the world have been in contact with a hepatitis virus, many people have no idea what it is.
Viral Hepatitis Transmission
People can be infected with the three most common types of hepatitis in these ways:
- HAV: Ingestion of contaminated fecal matter, even in tiny amounts, from close person-to-person contact with an infected person, sexual contact with an infected person, or contaminated food, drink, or objects.
- HBV: Contact with infectious blood, semen, or other body fluids; sexual contact with an infected person; sharing of contaminated needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment; and needlesticks or other sharp-instrument injuries. In addition, an infected woman can pass the virus to her newborn.
- HCV: Contact with blood of an infected person, primarily through sharing contaminated needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment, and, less commonly, blood transfusions, sexual contact with an infected person, birth to an infected mother, and needlesticks or other sharp-instrument injuries.
Chronic HCV is often “silent,” and many people can have the infection for decades without having symptoms or feeling sick. Compared with other age groups, people aged 46 to 64 are 4 to 5 times as likely to be infected with HCV. Any sexual activity with an infected person increases the risk of contracting hepatitis. In particular, unprotected anal sex increases the risk for both HBV and HIV. New data suggest that sexual transmission of HCV among MSM with HIV occurs more commonly than previously believed. (according to the Center for Disease Control)
Viral Hepatitis Prevention
If you have HIV infection, you can lower your risk of contracting hepatitis and other bloodborne viruses by not sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other personal items that may come into contact with an infected person’s blood. Do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting, which may use dirty needles or other instruments. Just as HIV-positive individuals would not want to engage in behaviors that would put them at risk for hepatitis, these same behaviors would also put others at risk for HIV.
- HAV: The best way to prevent HAV infection is to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for HAV for people who are at risk for HIV infection, including MSM; users of recreational drugs, whether injected or not; and sex partners of infected people.
- HBV: The best way to prevent HBV infection is to get vaccinated. CDC recommends universal vaccination against HBV for people who have or are at risk for HIV infection, including MSM; people who inject drugs; sex partners of infected people; people with multiple sex partners; anyone with a sexually transmitted infection; and health care and public safety workers exposed to blood on the job.
- HCV: There is no vaccine for HCV. CDC estimates that people born during 1945 through 1965 account for nearly 75% of all HCV infections in the United States. The best way to prevent HCV infection is to never inject drugs or to stop injecting drugs if you currently do so by getting into and staying in a drug treatment program. If you continue injecting drugs, always use new, sterile syringes and never reuse or share syringes, needles, water, or other drug preparation equipment. You can also reduce your risk for contracting HCV from sexual contact by
- Abstaining from sexual intercourse.
- Being monogamous.
- Using a condom.
- Avoiding rough sex.
- Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.