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Providers Weigh In: Hepatitis Testing Can Save Your Life

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dr. Sean Koppe
Sean Koppe, MD

Millions of Americans are infected with chronic hepatitis, and each year thousands of people die due to complications from the disease.

“Hepatitis virus causes infection and inflammation of the liver, which can lead to severe complications and even death,” says Dr. Sean Koppe, director of hepatology at UI Health. “The virus spreads easily, but there are many things we can do to prevent it. At UI Health, we take part in numerous community events to educate the public about steps each person can take to protect themself from preventable viruses. We aspire to do everything we can to make elimination of viral hepatitis possible.”

There are five main types of hepatitis virus, referred to as A, B, C, D, and E. The viruses are of great concern because of the extent of illness and death they can cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread.

Hepatitis Prevention

The best way to prevent hepatitis A and B is through regular vaccination for all children. Adults at increased risk for hepatitis B — such as those from communities with a high prevalence of hepatitis B or exposure to family members or partners with chronic hepatitis B — also should be vaccinated. However, there is no preventive vaccine for hepatitis C. Maintaining good hygiene plays a major role in prevention of hepatitis B and C virus. This includes not sharing personal items like razors, toothbrushes, and prescription drug equipment.

Hepatitis Diagnosis and Treatment

The test for diagnosing hepatitis virus is simple and quick. Blood tests can help determine the presence of the virus in the body and the extent of any liver damage. Early detection of the virus allows for early treatment, which can prevent disease progression and decrease transmission to others.

“Liver damage can occur before a person can notice any obvious signs and symptoms,” Dr. Koppe says. “Many patients do not know they have the virus, and they unknowingly engage in activities that lead to their virus spreading. Therefore, regular screenings are a must for people who at a risk of coming into contact with the virus. A big part of our outreach activities is educating and empowering our community to make the choice to get tested regularly. We want to start treatment when it is most effective — when the infection is in its early stages.”

More than 5 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but most do not know they are infected. Many people live with chronic hepatitis for decades without symptoms or feeling sick until it is too late. Chronic hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer, and getting tested is the only way to know about your infection and the first step towards saving your life.

Visit the department of hepatology at UI Health learn more about chronic hepatitis and the hepatology services at UI Health.