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Lourdes Physicians Encourage Hepatitis Testing for Faster Treatment, Prolonged Quality of Life

Viral hepatitis is a leading cause of chronic liver disease, with millions of people worldwide at risk for complications that include cirrhosis and liver failure.

Stopping the spread of hepatitis starts with awareness and prevention, says a Lourdes liver specialist.

“Hepatitis is a group of viral infections that inflame and damage the liver, potentially causing liver cancer,” said Hisham ElGenaidi, M.D., a Lourdes hepatologist. “Unfortunately, many people infected with hepatitis do not realize it because chronic hepatitis can be asymptomatic. Treatment can improve and prolong life, which is why getting tested is key.”

There are three main types of the hepatitis virus–Hepatitis A, B and C.

Hepatitis A

The hepatitis A Virus (HAV) is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with fecal matter. Symptoms of hepatitis A typically don’t appear until you’ve had the virus for a few weeks, but may include fatigue, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and joint pain. Although rare, hepatitis A can be fatal. The infection usually last between three to six months and once recovered, leads to life-long immunity. HAV can be easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.

“HAV is one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S.,” said Dr. ElGenaidi. “The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at-risk. It is also recommended that travelers to countries where Hepatitis A is common–getting the vaccine in advance of travel. Good hand-washing and proper sanitation can also greatly reduce the spread of HAV.”

Hepatitis B

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is spread when blood, semen or other body fluids from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. The virus can also be passed from an infected woman to her baby at birth. HBV infections can range from mild symptoms lasting a few weeks to a life-long, chronic condition.

“The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth and  those adults at-risk,” said Dr. ElGenaidi, who serves as Medical Director, Hepatology, with the Lourdes Center for Organ Transplantation. “Practicing safe sex and not sharing needles or drug injection equipment can help protect individuals against hepatitis B infection. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis B can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. However, treatments are available that can help slow down or prevent liver damage.”

Hepatitis C

More than 3.5 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C (HCV), but many live with the disease unaware that they are infected. People can live for decades without symptoms. Since approximately 75 percent of those infected with HCV were born from 1945-1965, the CDC recommends that everyone born during this time, often called baby boomers, get tested for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. HCV can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a life-long, chronic infection. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, however, treatments are available that can help treat and potentially cure it.

“Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.,” explained Dr. ElGenaidi. “You could be at risk for HCV if you have received a blood transfusion before July 1992, ever injected drugs, or shared needles or ink wells for body piercing or tattoos, or have unprotected sex.”

Prevention and Treatment

The liver is a vital organ essential to good health. “The liver helps digest food, store energy and remove poisons from the body,” said Dr. ElGenaidi. “It processes nutrients, filters the blood and helps fight infections. When the liver becomes inflamed, its function can be affected. Those who experience symptoms of the virus may have yellowing of the skin and/or eyes, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and a loss of appetite.

Dr. El Genaidi strongly urges those at-risk to get tested for the hepatitis virus, whether experiencing symptoms or not. He also recommends these tips for preventing infection:

  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
  • Practice good hygiene.
  • Practice safe sex.
  • Use only clean needles for tattoos and body piercings.
  • Do not share needles.
  • Do not share razors, toothbrushes or other personal items.
  • Get medical care if you are exposed to blood or needle sticks.

“There is a lot that still needs to be done to improve prevention, education and access to medical care and treatment,” said Dr. ElGenaidi. “Talk with your healthcare provider about testing and being vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B today.”

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