Doctors encourage testing on World Hepatitis Day
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville's Hepatitis A outbreak is the worst in the nation and Kentucky has some of the highest Hepatitis C infection rates in the country, which is why doctors are stressing the need to be tested on Saturday, which is World Hepatitis Day.
"Knowing your status is the first step," said Dr. Paul Schultz, an infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist with Norton Healthcare.
So what's the difference between the most common strains, A, B and C, and who's most at risk? Dr. Schultz breaks it down.
"It's basically irritation or inflammation of the liver. You can get that from many many things," said Dr. Schultz. "Here locally we have the Hepatitis A outbreak that's been going on for the last six months."
While "A" almost always gets better on its own, Dr. Schultz says it can be more serious in older people and is easily spread from person to person. "Typically it's going to be a food borne illness, meaning you get it from something you eat or potentially drink."
Dr. Schultz says it can be treated and easily prevented. "Wash produce, cook foods to the appropriate temperatures, don't eat unpasteurized products. Stuff like that," he said.
Getting vaccinated is also your best line of defense. "There's a generation coming behind us that is getting vaccinated. In other words the idea is that the entire generation will be vaccinated," said Dr. Schultz.
Vaccines exist for both Hepatitis A and B, but with B it's not spread through food or water. "It is actually most commonly sexually transmitted and can be a blood borne pathogen too, so IV drug use and that sort of thing," he said.
Hepatitis B can cause short-term and long-term illness, and Dr. Schultz says it's often overshadowed by Hepatitis C.
"C has really become the poster child of Hepatitis," said Dr. Schultz.
A vaccination doesn't exist for the chronic virus, but newer more effective treatments are available. "That's a relatively new thing. If you had Hepatitis C even 10 years, for sure 20 years ago, it was much more difficult to cure," he said.
So who's most at risk? Homeless and drug users. And when it comes to Hepatitis C, those at risk include people in a certain age group. "This is anyone who was born between 1945 and 1965," he said.
While Hepatitis A is making headlines in Kentuckiana, Dr. Schultz says that's triggering testing for all three major strains. "Vaccination for A and appropriate screening for B and C, not only providing individual healthcare for that person, but potentially preventing more cases in the community," said Dr. Schultz.
He says knowing your status means a better chance at getting the right care.
Hep A vaccines are available through most retail pharmacies and physician offices. Screenings can be done at physician offices and most immediate care centers.
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