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FOR RELEASE: May 8 , 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Protect Yourself Against Hepatitis
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month

May 2007 marks the twelfth anniversary of Hepatitis Awareness Month. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, a vital organ that performs many of the body’s functions that are necessary for life. Many persons who are infected with hepatitis may not have heard of the disease or know they have it.

Of the five known types of hepatitis viruses, one of every three persons in the United States has been infected with hepatitis A, B, or C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some people with hepatitis C were infected 10 to 20 years ago and no longer engage in the behaviors that can put them at risk. Because they are not currently at risk of infection, they may not respond to awareness efforts and take the steps necessary to get tested.

“Hepatitis C is referred to as the silent epidemic. Nearly three-fourths of the 44,859 Oklahomans who are currently infected with hepatitis C are unaware of their infection. The damage it does to individuals, families and communities is incalculable,” said Michael Harmon, chief, OSDH HIV/STD Service.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) estimates seven new hepatitis A infections, 61 new hepatitis B infections, and 14 new hepatitis C infections occurred in Oklahoma in 2005. For the same time period, the CDC estimates that 4,488 new hepatitis A infections, 5,494 new hepatitis B infections, and 671 new hepatitis C infections, occurred in the United States.

Hepatitis A is spread by poor hand washing techniques, poor sanitation or by close contact with an infected person. Since the introduction of hepatitis A vaccines in 1995, reports of hepatitis A have declined more than 80 percent.

Hepatitis B is spread by blood and sexual contact. The virus can cause chronic infection that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis B vaccine has been available since 1991 to prevent virus infection and as a result, acute hepatitis B has declined 75 percent.

Hepatitis C, like hepatitis B, is spread by blood and sexual contact. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. Similar to hepatitis B, however, hepatitis C infection can result in cirrhosis and liver cancer. Both viruses may be asymptomatic, meaning persons can be infected and transmit the disease for years without knowing it.

Public health officials emphasize that hepatitis B and C cannot be spread through sneezing, coughing, sharing dishes, holding hands, hugging, or kissing on the lips.
For more information regarding activities associated with Hepatitis Awareness Month and the prevention and control of viral hepatitis, contact Debbie Purton, RN, at the OSDH HIV/STD Service at 405-271-4636. Visit this Web site to obtain free educational materials: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.

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