Hepatitis: Raising Awareness of a Silent Epidemic

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Health

May is “National Hepatitis Awareness Month,” with May 19 designated as “Hepatitis Testing Day.” This month aims to raise awareness of viral hepatitis and reminds health care providers and the public about who should be tested. Millions of Americans are living with chronic hepatitis, but most do not know they are infected. Viral hepatitis is an inflammation or infection of the liver. Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck is encouraging Illinoisans to learn about hepatitis, get tested and seek medical treatment if needed.

The Center for Minority Health Services is collaborating with five grantees (Asian Health Coalition, Asian Human Services, Institute for Positive Living, Midwest Asian Health Association, and Puerto Rican Cultural Center) to provide hepatitis B outreach, awareness, and education to foreign born Asian and African immigrant and refugee communities. Grantees are increasing outreach and educational efforts that address an individual’s hepatitis B risk, cultural and societal issues and co-factors that result in disparities in screening and vaccination rates. In addition, grantees are providing referrals and connections to opportunities for screening, vaccination and treatment services.

Chronic viral hepatitis is considered to be a “silent” disease because it progresses slowly and rarely causes symptoms until decades after infection. By the time a person shows symptoms, damage to the liver has already occurred. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants. Between 2008 and 2012, there were 9,316 reported cases of chronic hepatitis B and 38,875 cases of chronic hepatitis C reported to the IDPH.

Effective treatments are available for hepatitis B and C. Advances in hepatitis C treatments offer simpler dosing, shorter treatment durations, fewer side effects, and, most importantly, higher cure rates which eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer. There are vaccines available for hepatitis A and hepatitis B to prevent these infections. For additional information about viral hepatitis, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis/index.htm.

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