In the honor of World Hepatitis Day and those affected by this disease, let’s reflect on the progress in the fight against viral hepatitis, and consider the work remaining to eradicate it. Additionally, for patient self-care, we’ve provided a list from the CDC about the risks associated with the disease. Also, we’ve provided reminders of how they can minimize their risk of infection by getting the proper exams and vaccinations.
What’s Being Done Today in the Worldwide Fight Against Hepatitis
In 2014, there were 19,200 new cases of hepatitis B infection in the US. Since 1991, the acute rate of infection has gone down 82%. That is an impressive decline, and in order to maintain forward progress, it’s important to discuss prevention techniques with your patients.
Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provide immunization programs in the US as well as in countries such as Haiti, the Philippines, and Vietnam that have high rates of viral hepatitis. Their vision is to improve surveillance, testing, and treatment of viral hepatitis in order to eliminate the disease globally. Much of the work they do is in interventions to increase hepatitis B vaccinations at birth, as well as documenting the burden of hepatitis B in children and providing support to countries to realize their goals for hepatitis B control and elimination.
Raising Your Patients’ Awareness and Promoting Wellness
Often, patients infected with hepatitis have no symptoms, and since they don’t feel sick they are not aware they have the disease. This poses a serious health risk because they can still spread the virus. In order to prevent the disease from spreading it’s important to discuss the risks with your patients and to encourage them to get tested.
As a reminder, the most common risk factors associated with hepatitis B are the following:
- An infected mother transmitting the virus to the baby at birth
- Unprotected sex with an infected partner
- Sharing items such as needles, syringes, razors or even toothbrushes with an infected person
- Direct contact with the blood or any open sores of an infected person
Encourage your patients to take this hepatitis risk assessment, provided by the CDC.
It’s especially important to encourage younger patients, under the age of 5, to get the hepatitis B vaccine. Of all the strains of viral hepatitis, hepatitis B most often leads chronic infection. The younger the infected patient is, the more likely they will develop chronic hepatitis and liver disease. After the ages of 6-10, the risk of developing chronic hepatitis B drops by approximately 10%.
Vaccination Databases and EHR Software
Whether in family medicine or internal medicine, Electronic Health Records (EHR) software that connects to vaccination databases can be an extremely useful tool to fight hepatitis in high-risk areas. Vaccination databases are especially valuable in pediatric medicine since contributing to early immunization of hepatitis B.
With your help, we can continue to lay the foundation to eliminate viral hepatitis in the US and globally.