What is hepatitis?

In 1967, the first viral group of hepatitis was discovered. Two years later, a vaccine for hepatitis B was developed. As we have many medical advancements to better prevent and care for viral hepatitis, this group of infectious diseases still affects millions of people worldwide.

Kentucky is sitting close to the top of the list for the United States. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) viral hepatitis surveillance data for 2019, Kentucky ranks seventh for acute hepatitis C virus (HCV); in 2018, we were fourth. For hepatitis B, Kentucky ranks third for new acute cases of hepatitis B virus (HBV), and we were No. 2 in 2018. Click here for more recent statistics in Kentucky.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is liver inflammation caused by a group of infectious viruses including types A, B, C, D and E. These diseases cause a million deaths each year, and that total is still increasing with each year. The most terrifying part — most people exhibit no symptoms.

What’s the difference between the variants?

Hepatitis A: inflammation of the liver caused by HAV, a contagious liver viral infection. There is a vaccine to help prevent contracting it as symptoms can last up to two months. This disease can be contracted by ingesting poor water, food, personal hygiene and oral-anal sex.

Hepatitis B: a vaccine-preventable virus that spreads through blood, semen and other bodily fluids. It is best to get vaccinated as hepatitis B can lead to life-threatening circumstances such as liver cancer. It is also commonly transmitted to a child from their mother during birth and delivery.

Hepatitis C: caused by a blood-borne pathogen, HCV, it is the major cause of liver cancer. There are no symptoms when infected and no vaccines for hepatitis C. It is usually transmitted by unsafe exposure to blood including sharing needles and sexual intercourse. HCV does not have a vaccine, but it can easily be cured with eight to 12 weeks of oral medication. There are few side effects with HCV medication. Treatment of HCV for Medicaid patients usually generates no out-of-pocket cost ($0), and commercially insured patients can be treated for $5 per fill.

Hepatitis D: HBV must be present for hepatitis D to occur. This combination is severe as its accelerated progression to liver-related deaths. With the hepatitis B vaccine, this infection can be prevented but has a low rate of success with treatment if contracted.

Hepatitis E: Found in stool, this virus is spread by ingestion of microscopic amount found in food and water. Most cases occur in developing countries or to people who have visited them. There is currently no vaccine available for hepatitis E

In 2020, the CDC and United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended universal screening of all adults for hepatitis. This follows the same recommendation made by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease. Universal screening includes all adults at least once, and each pregnant person during each pregnancy. People at risk for acquiring HCV should test annually. ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), in 2021, also updated their screening guidance to include HCV screening for all pregnant women. They already recommend HIV and HBV testing for this population. See aasld.org, hcvguidelines.org, cdc.gov.

Now that you are well-informed, do you need to get screened? No problem! The UofL Health – UofL Hospital – Hep C Center leads our area in providing compassionate care, advocacy, access to curative hepatitis C treatments, liver assessment with Fibroscan and world-class specialty pharmacy services.

Other resources from UofL Hospital – Hep C Center: