NEWPORT NEWS, Va (WAVY) — Wednesday was World Hepatitis Day, when the World Health Organization amplifies its push to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.
It’s estimated there are about a million people walking around with hepatitis in the United States — and more than half don’t know it.
“The number of cases of hepatitis C that occur annually per year have gone up threefold, and the reason for that is the epidemic of intravenous drug use,” Dr. Mitchell Shiffman, of the Bon Secours Liver Institute of Hampton Roads, told WAVY.
Shiffman said if you’ve ever used or even experimented with drugs, you are at risk for hepatitis C. Baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, are 5 times more likely to be infected, according to the Virginia Health Department.
“It’s now recommended by the WHO and CDC that every adult should get a single hepatitis C test once in their life just to be sure,” Shiffman said.
Most baby boomers were infected through blood transfusions before the disease and a test for it were developed.
Many people with liver disease have no symptoms until it progresses to cirrhosis which, Shiffman said, is what is happening with many in that generation now.
“The driver to develop liver cancer is cirrhosis,” he said.
That is why the death rate is on the rise and why the theme of World Hepatitis Day is “Hep Can’t Wait,” he said.
“‘Don’t wait’ means go out and get tested. Find out if you’ve been previously exposed, because you might not know or may not realize you had a risk factor,” Dr. Shiffman told us.
It’s a simple blood test done at your doctor’s office. If you find out you have hepatitis, it can be treated with pills. Hepatitis C is almost always 100% curable, Shiffman said.
There is no cure for hepatitis B but it can be treated and managed. There is also a hepatitis B vaccine that is now given as part of regular childhood vaccines.