May is Hepatitis Awareness Month and the American Liver Foundation urges everyone to learn what can be done to prevent the spread of hepatitis. Many forms of hepatitis are preventable and can be treated if detected early. The word ‘hepatitis’ means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, heavy alcohol use, bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
The liver is the largest gland in the human body. It is located in the upper right abdomen. The normal liver has many important complex functions. These functions include manufacture of plasma proteins, storage of carbohydrates, detoxifying drugs and toxins, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, bile formation, and others.
Each year an estimated 30 million travelers visit destinations that are considered high-risk for hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis A and B are the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in travelers, affecting more than 280,000 Americans. Clearly, many thousands of travelers set out inadequately informed about the risks of getting hepatitis while outside the U. S. The good news is that in addition to getting the two vaccines separately, there is a combination vaccine that safely and effectively prevents both of these potentially fatal diseases.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can become chronic, life-long infections which can lead to liver cancer. Many Americans are unaware that they are infected with these serious liver diseases. That is why Hepatitis Awareness Month is essential to raising awareness, which in turn will help improve screening and testing rates to reduce the burden of illness and death from these diseases. Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B can both be prevented with vaccines. Cases of Hepatitis A have dramatically declined in the U.S. over the last 20 years largely due to vaccination efforts. Unfortunately, many people became infected with Hepatitis B before the Hepatitis B vaccine was widely available. The hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended.
If your doctor suspects you have hepatitis, she might order a series of hepatitis tests that focus on your liver. Your doctor may order a viral serology panel, a group of blood tests that determines whether you have hepatitis, which strain it is, and the severity of your illness. A sample of blood is taken from the arm or hand and used to do a screening test for all types of the virus. At the lab, the technician checks the sample for specific markers of the viruses that may have invaded your body, as well as the specific antibodies that your immune system will have produced to fight them off.
These tests are also used in long-term management of hepatitis, to keep track of how your treatment is progressing. As the infection clears, the presence of an antigen from the virus will disappear. If the infection smolders and becomes chronic, there will continue to be an antigen or antigens in the blood. When diagnosing hepatitis, a combination of tests may be necessary to determine the type of hepatitis you have, how much it has progressed, and ultimately to decide on the best course of treatment for your condition.