May is Hepatitis Awareness Month -- Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19

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May has been designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month in the U.S., an opportunity to raise awareness about viral hepatitis and to encourage testing and treatment. May 19 is the fifth annual observance of Hepatitis Testing Day, reminding health care providers and the public that more than half of the estimated 4-5 millionpeople living with chronic hepatitis B or C in the U.S. do not know they are infected.

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Over years or decades chronic hepatitis B and C can lead to severe liver disease including cirrhosis, liver cancer, and end-stage liver failure. Viral hepatitis is a leading indication for liver transplants in the U.S. and worldwide.

Hepatitis B (along with hepatitis A, which does cause chronic infection) can be prevented with a vaccine. Thehepatitis B vaccine is a routine childhood immunization in the U.S., and is recommended for at-risk adults who were not immunized as children, including people who inject drugs, people who have sex with multiple partners, gay and bisexual men, HIV-positive people, people with other chronic liver diseases including hepatitis C, patients undergoing kidney dialysis, prisoners, and healthcare and emergency service workers.

There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, but new direct-acting antiviral drugs used in interferon-free regimens can cure chronic infection more than 90% of the time, usually with 8-12 weeks of well-tolerated treatment.

The CDC and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that all Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1965 should be screened for hepatitis C virus (HCV) at least once as part of their routine health care, while people with ongoing risk should be tested regularly. The latest AASLD/IDSA hepatitis C guidelines recommend treatment for nearly all people with chronic HCV infection, regardless of the stage of liver damage.

5/10/16