Hep­ati­tis: Who’s at Risk?

What you need to know about this med­i­cal con­di­tion. SA­MAN­THA RIDE­OUT

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - BY SA­MAN­THA RIDE­OUT

TIME TO RE­VISIT YOUR ABCS: vi­ral hep­ati­tis—in­flam­ma­tion of the liver—is clas­si­fied with dif­fer­ent let­ters de­pend­ing on which virus is to blame. All va­ri­eties are con­ta­gious and may cause fa­tigue, stom­ach pain, fever or yel­low­ish eyes, and some put so much strain on the or­gan that they can lead to scar­ring, can­cer or the need for a trans­plant.

Thank­fully, the over­all chances of con­tract­ing hep­ati­tis are fairly low. Hep A (trans­ferred mainly by food or wa­ter con­tam­i­nated with fe­ces) comes and goes in small out­breaks, while D (a com­pli­ca­tion of hep B) and E (usu­ally spread by dirty wa­ter) are un­com­mon in de­vel­oped coun­tries. Ul­ti­mately, most of the hep­ati­tis bur­den comes down to B and C, which are chronic in less than one per cent of Cana­di­ans (although un­der­re­port­ing may be an is­sue.)

Hep B is found in blood, se­men and vagi­nal flu­ids, so your risk is above av­er­age if you’ve had un­pro­tected sex with mul­ti­ple part­ners, if you’ve ever in­jected drugs or if you’ve shared tooth­brushes, ra­zors or nail clip­pers with an in­fected per­son.

If you con­tract hep B as an adult, there’s a 95 per cent chance your im­mune sys­tem will de­feat it with­out med­i­cal treat­ment. How­ever, chil­dren—most of­ten in­fected dur­ing de­liv­ery—typ­i­cally be­come life­long car­ri­ers. This strain doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily show symp­toms un­til it leads to com­pli­ca­tions, which are a risk for a quar­ter of chronic car­ri­ers. There­fore, most na­tional health author­i­ties sug­gest that chil­dren get the vac­cine, along with at-risk adults who missed it in child­hood.

Mean­while, hep C is mainly spread by blood. Your risk is higher if you’ve used in­tra­venous drugs, shared per­sonal hy­giene items or re­ceived a blood trans­fu­sion be­fore the 1990s, when screen­ing technology be­came avail­able. There isn’t yet a vac­cine for hep C, and of­ten symp­toms won’t ap­pear un­til se­vere liver dam­age is present. Your chances of get­ting rid of the dis­ease with­out treat­ment are only one in four, but there are new med­i­ca­tions that will cure it 90 to 97 per cent of the time, says Dr. He­lena CortezPinto, a liver ex­pert for United Euro­pean Gas­troen­terol­ogy.

“The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion is aim­ing to elim­i­nate hep­ati­tis B and C as pub­lic-health threats by 2030,” says CortezPinto. With the help of vac­cines, treat­ments and risk aware­ness, it’s a re­al­is­tic goal.

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