Each month, I normally write about how to treat medical emergencies such as bleeding, heat exhaustion, allergic reactions and other conditions.
This month I want to discuss a disease, or actually a group of diseases called hepatitis. Hepatitis, which means inflammation of the liver, also refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver. The most common forms are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation. An estimated 4.4 million Americans live with chronic hepatitis and the majority do not realize they are infected.
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is usually spread from fecal-oral contact or contamination. You can become infected by eating raw or undercooked shellfish from contaminated waters, raw produce, contaminated drinking water, uncooked foods, and cooked foods that are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler. You may also be exposed to the virus if you come into contact with sewage.
Vaccination is the most effective means of preventing HAV transmission among persons at risk for infection.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is most often transmitted through sexual contact. Among adults seeking treatment in STD clinics, between 10 and 40 percent have the Hepatitis B virus infection. HBV is spread when blood, semen or vaginal fluids (including menstrual blood) from an infected person enter another person’s body. Vaccination is available.
(As a side note: Never share a razor or a toothbrush with anyone. Sharing these items may spread HBV if they carry blood from a person who is infected with the virus.)
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of people who have this disease. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person and can be transmitted through sexual activity. Currently, there is no vaccination available.
Studies suggest that HCV may survive on household surfaces at room temperature up to four days. Clean up any blood spills — including dried blood, which can still be infectious — using a dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts of water to disinfect the area. Use gloves and eye protection when cleaning up blood spills.
One question I get a lot is if you can get HCV from getting a tattoo. Although it is biologically possible when poor infection control practices are used, there is no evidence that HCV has been spread through tattooing. Nor has it been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.
Many U.S. employers, especially restaurants, require their employees to take a class called Bloodborne Pathogens. When I teach this class, I stress one simple point: Assume everyone is infected, so always wear gloves and eye protection when dealing with blood or other bodily fluids.
For more information visit National Library of Medicine.
Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or www.TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.