Today (05/19/09) was Hepatitis Awareness Day in the United States and around the World. Many local health departments marked the occasion by offering free vaccines for Hepatitis A & B.

From the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), we pass on this Hepatitis Awareness Day statement:

“Liver disease is a serious public health issue in our nation, as it currently affects more than 30 million Americans. Diseases such as Hepatitis are often referred to as “silent diseases” because liver damage can gradually occur over many years before being discovered, which often happens once the damage is irreparable,” stated DPH Commissioner Dr. J. Robert Galvin. “Nationally, hepatitis B and C are major causes of liver cancer, liver transplantation and even death.”

Hepatitis does not discriminate and affects all ages, genders, races, ethnicities and income levels. Learning about liver wellness, hepatitis A and B vaccination (there is no vaccine for hepatitis C), and risk factors are important ways to recognize and prevent the spread of these diseases.

Dr. Galvin added that “hepatitis A and B are vaccine preventable diseases, yet they continue to be the most commonly reported vaccine preventable diseases. Getting vaccinated, especially if you are at high risk, provides the best protection from these diseases.”

Connecticut mandates that all newborns, infants and school-age children be vaccinated against hepatitis B. All pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B during their prenatal care so that measures can be taken to prevent transmission to newborns.

Hepatitis A is most often spread through ingesting contaminated food or water or by certain sexual practices and has been associated with large outbreaks of disease.