Hepatitis: What Is It and How We Can Treat It

Posted Thursday July 19, 2018

Cincinnati residents are affected by a variety of diseases, according to the Cincinnati Health Department’s Infectious Disease Surveillance Summaries. These include foodborne illnesses such as E. coli, diseases spread by animals such as Lyme disease, vaccine-preventable illnesses like chickenpox, among others. However, the category that affects Cincinnati residents most heavily is viral hepatitis.

In 2017, there were 1,029 reported cases of viral hepatitis, compared to 549 reported cases of all other diseases tracked by the health department. That means that for every case of another disease reported, whether that be salmonella, whooping cough, or influenza, there are almost two cases of viral hepatitis reported. Additionally, 892 of those, or almost 90 percent, were reported to be chronic hepatitis C cases.

Remember that these reports only detail new cases of each disease, so there are even more people suffering from chronic hepatitis C in Cincinnati than the 892 newly reported cases in 2017. This number is rapidly growing. In 2014, there were only 410 newly identified cases of hepatitis C, so the rate of incidence for new cases has more than doubled in the last three years. With 355 newly reported cases in May, Cincinnati is on track to maintain the number of new cases of hepatitis C for 2018. As hepatitis is a growing issue for Cincinnati, the community should examine ways to help its residents suffering from hepatitis as well as prevent others from contracting it.

There are two types of hepatitis that the health department tracks under the viral hepatitis category: hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is transmitted through body fluids like blood or semen, which can happen through sexual contact, mother-baby contact at birth, or drug-injection equipment contact through needles and syringes. For most adults, hepatitis B is a short-term illness that can be treated and cured. For a few adults and most infants, however, hepatitis B can become a chronic disease that can lead to death by liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver (scarring and loss of cells). The best way to prevent hepatitis B infection is to get vaccinated for hepatitis B and receive prenatal care if you are pregnant.

Hepatitis C is similar to hepatitis B in a few ways. First, it is also a liver infection but caused by the hepatitis C virus. Chronic infection with hepatitis C can lead to death, just like hepatitis B, which makes it a serious disease. However, the vast majority of people with hepatitis C contract it from sharing needles or equipment to inject drugs.

Unlike hepatitis B, most adults who get hepatitis C will have a long-term infection. Even worse, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Therefore, the only way to prevent a hepatitis C infection is to avoid behaviors that can spread the disease, like sharing used needles. If you suffer from a drug addiction involving injection, make sure to utilize Cincinnati’s The Exchange Project, which allows for the exchange of dirty needles for clean ones. You can call 513-316-7725, email exchangeproject@hamilton-co.org, or visit cincyep.org to learn more information.

For more information, please explore these resources:

The Center for Closing the Health Gap in Greater Cincinnati is dedicated to helping you and your family live healthy lifestyles. To learn more about our efforts please visit us online: www.ClosingTheHealthGap.org; Facebook.com/CloseHealthGap; Twitter.com/CCHGcincy.

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