In recognition of May as Hepatitis Awareness Month, Liver Cancer Connect reviews some important facts and dangerous fiction about chronic hepatitis B and C- the world’s leading causes of liver cancer. First, the facts:
FACT #1. Viral hepatitis is a silent killer of millions
- Hepatitis B infection is the world’s leading cause of liver cancer, which is the second deadliest cancer worldwide. In the US, 1 in 20 Americans has been exposed to hepatitis B (about 12 million people), while about 5 million Americans have hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis C is the main cause of liver cancer in the US (because more Americans have hepatitis C) and the main reason for liver transplantation.
- Viral hepatitis is truly a silent killer. Of the 400 million people in the world with chronic hepatitis B and the 170 million with chronic hepatitis C, most don’t even know they are infected.
FACT#2. Testing saves lives!
- The CDC recommends all US baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) get a one-time test for hepatitis C, because one in 30 boomers has been infected with hepatitis C.
- In its recent draft recommendations, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends testing persons at high risk for hepatitis B, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
- Testing saves lives by detecting the liver disease early and by identifying people who are not infected and who therefore can be vaccinated against hepatitis B.
FACT #3. HBV is preventable and treatable; HCV is now curable!
- Hepatitis B is preventable! So if you do not have hepatitis B, get vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine- the world’s first anti-cancer vaccine- offers lifelong protection.
- If you do have hepatitis B, talk to a healthcare professional about whether you need to get treated with one of the seven therapies that keep the virus under control.
- There’s no vaccine against hepatitis C, but it is now curable!
Now let’s tackle the fiction:
FICTION #1. “Hepatitis B is sexually transmitted, so we don’t need to vaccinate infants.” Wrong! Hepatitis B can also be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth (perinatal transmission). In fact, in some countries where hepatitis B is very common, this is the main form of transmission.
FICTION #2. “I am in a “high-risk” group, but I don’t have any signs or symptoms. So I don’t need to get tested.” Yes you do! Most people with chronic hepatitis B or C do not know they are infected. Many people live with chronic hepatitis for decades without symptoms or feeling sick. And in people with chronic hepatitis B infection, liver cancer can develop with or without cirrhosis, so testing and regular monitoring is essential.
FICTION #3. “I heard I can catch hepatitis B from the vaccine.” No! You cannot get hepatitis B from the vaccine because it does not contain any live virus. The vaccine is made from a synthetic yeast product in a laboratory. The most common side effects are redness and soreness in the arm where the shot is given.