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In 2016, 1,715 people died from Hepatitis B also know as HBV. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and we got the low down from Dr. Eric Svestka, board-certified primary care physician, to increase understanding about what this disease is.

What is hepatitis? What are its symptoms?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, but reasons for that inflammation are different between the three types.

Hepatitis A, or HAV, is very different from B & C and spreads through contaminated food. Dr. Svestka says, most people do experience symptoms from it like initially nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever. Though later, most people will develop jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

Symptoms are usually mild or non-existent early in the infections of B and C. This is spread primarily through contact with infected blood – most commonly sex or sharing needles. This is how the virus spreads around so quickly as most individuals don't develop symptoms, and therefore, don't seek treatment.

In the US, the incidence of new HAV infections has been slowly increasing since 2010. New cases of HBV are relatively steady. However, the CDC estimates that there are between 850,000 – 2.2 million people with chronic Hepatitis B infection in the US.

Unfortunately, new cases of HCV have been steadily increasing over the last decade. The most recent estimates have 3.5 million Americans living with this chronic illness.

Why is hepatitis the epidemic it is?

With HBV and HCV, there is a possibility of it turning into a chronic infection, which means it'll last for longer than six months. Liver failure or liver cancers are possibilities if it develops into a chronic disease. 

Dr. Svestka says, "HAV does not become a chronic infection, unlike Hepatitis B & C, and about 95% of people who contract HAV will recover within 2-3 months."

What are the differences between all the vaccines?

Currently, there are vaccines available for HAV and HBV, but no vaccine for HCV. Children are now routinely vaccinated for both and most professions that carry a high risk of exposure also require the vaccines. Your primary care provider will be able to tell you if you are vaccinated and a blood test can tell you if you are protected against both HAV and HBV. HepA vaccine is recommended by the CDC for almost all travel outside of the United States.

If you are unsure about whether or not you've gotten the HAV or HBV vaccine or would like to discuss it more, you can make an appointment with Dr. Svestka for a screening here.