“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver and also refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver. Hepatitis C is the most common type in the United States. Hepatitis C can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is more prevalent in the African American population than in any other racial group in the United States. READ: Experts Release Landmark Hepatitis C Findings Related To Blacks READ: Blood Transfusions: What Are The Risks? Hepatitis C infection is a major public health concern for people of all races, and it has become one of the leading causes of death associated with liver cancer in the United States. Since hepatitis C often does not have any symptoms, it is critical that people are tested to find out if they have the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an easy-to-use online risk assessment that can help you figure out if you need to talk to your doctor about getting tested for Hepatitis C or other types of hepatitis. It can also suggest if you could benefit from Hepatitis A or B vaccination. Testing for hepatitis consists of a simple blood test that can determine if a person has ever been exposed to the virus. CDC recommends anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, who was born from 1945-1965 (“baby boomers”) get tested for Hepatitis C. READ: How To Cope With Hepatitis C Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with Hepatitis C enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people get Hepatitis C from sharing equipment for injecting drugs. In the past, many people got Hepatitis C from receiving contaminated blood transfusions or organ transplants before widespread screening in 1992. Getting a needlestick injury or being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C can also put people at risk for Hepatitis C. Although uncommon, Hepatitis C can also be spread through sex. The virus seems to be more easily spread through sex when a person also has HIV or an STD. READ: Hepatitis C In Barbershops & Salons? Since there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, the best way to prevent infection is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the virus. Getting tested for the disease also can help people infected with the virus to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease. Remember that early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. By Dr. Hazel Dean, Deputy Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Twitter: @DrDeanCDC
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