Hepatitis A, B, and C virus are a common cause of liver disease worldwide. While hepatitis A infection is relatively benign in most cases, the effects of hepatitis B and C can have serious consequences. More importantly, since there is no cure for hepatitis B and C, prevention is the most important strategy to contain the spread of disease. While hepatitis B virus is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in Asia, hepatitis C is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the U.S. Hepatitis C remains the most common cause of liver disease in the U.S. because of the chronic nature of the disease and the lack of effective vaccine. Although liver transplantation has become an accepted form of therapy in life-threatening cases, the new liver is not immune to re-infection by the hepatitis B or C. Until we find a cure for hepatitis, we must continue to educate the public about the risk factors and lifestyles changes to prevent hepatitis from spreading. Below lists some important prevention strategies for hepatitis.
The best strategy for prevention is to practice good personal hygiene and maintain proper sanitation. There are also two drugs used to prevent hepatitis A virus infection: hepatitis A vaccine and immune globulin
Hepatitis A vaccine provides the best long-term protection against hepatitis A. The vaccine is intended for persons two years of age and older who are at risk for infection and for persons with chronic liver disease. Because it takes about four weeks for the vaccine to provide protection against hepatitis A, it should not be given after exposure to hepatitis A virus.
Immune globulin can be given before exposure and is taken for short-term protection (three to six months) against hepatitis A. Patients who have already been acutely exposed to hepatitis A virus can also use it, because it helps to prevent them from re-developing hepatitis.
In order for the drug to work, it must be administered within 14 days after exposure. Lastly, the drug is highly recommended for travelers headed to high-risk areas who need short-term protection against hepatitis A. People who have already developed hepatitis A are immune against the virus for life.
Because there is no cure for hepatitis B infection, and the disease may lead to chronic liver disease, which can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer, prevention is critical in managing hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin are two drugs that used to prevent hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis B vaccine provides the best long-term protection against hepatitis B virus and should be given to all babies at birth, all children up to 18 years of age who have not been vaccinated, health care personnel, hemodialysis patients, persons who are at increased risk because of sexual practices, drug users who share needles, and people who have been accidentally exposed to blood infected needles with the virus.
Note: All individuals who are exposed to infected needles should receive both the hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin immediately after they are exposed.
Hepatitis B immune globulin is indicated for persons acutely exposed to the hepatitis B virus, infants born to infected mothers, and any individuals at increased risk of infection. Immune globlulin may prevent a person who is exposed to the virus from developing the disease.
Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine or immune globulin currently available to prevent hepatitis C transmission. Therefore, the only preventative measure is screening blood, organ, and tissue donors for the presence of the hepatitis C virus, and educating the public by counseling them to reduce or alter high-risk behaviors associated with hepatitis C infection.