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FOR RELEASE: May 13, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month
Health Officials Stress Prevention

About 3.9 million people in the United States are infected with hepatitis C, according to officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). One of the serious health problems related to hepatitis C is chronic liver disease that results in an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 deaths each year. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month and health officials want people to be aware of the types of hepatitis and how it is transmitted.

The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Although there are many causes of inflammation, viral infection is a common one. Viral infections include hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis A is transmitted by ingestion of food contaminated by a person infected with hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are infections transmitted primarily through blood. The majority of people infected with hepatitis A and B recover from illness and are considered immune.

However, up to 85 percent of those persons infected with hepatitis C do not clear the virus and the virus continues to multiply within their body. These persons are considered chronically infected and are potentially contagious to others. Risk factors for hepatitis C include injecting drug use and occupational exposure to blood in the health-care setting. Sexual transmission may occur, but appears to be low. Blood transfusion associated cases occurred prior to 1992, but are now very rare due to blood donor screening.

“Many people do not know they are infected because they do not feel ill,” said OSDH HIV/STD Service Chief William R. Pierson. “Symptoms of hepatitis C include yellowing of the skin or eyes, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and nausea and vomiting. Most persons never have symptoms. It can take years or even decades for a chronically infected person to experience symptoms serious enough to seek medical care,” Pierson said.

Testing for hepatitis C is available though one’s private physician. A testing profile may also be obtained at the Oklahoma Blood Institute. Persons who should be tested for hepatitis C include those who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to July 1992, those who received clotting factor concentrates prior to 1987, chronic hemodialysis patients, persons who ever injected illegal drugs (even one time many years ago), health care and public safety workers after exposure to hepatitis C-positive blood, and children born to hepatitis C-positive women.

Treatment for hepatitis C is available, but is not appropriate or effective for everyone. Information regarding support groups can be found from the Internet at www.searchok.com/~hepcsupportokc. For more information on hepatitis C, contact the county health department in your area or visit the OSDH Web site at www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd .

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