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Vital Signs: What’s Behind The Spike In Viral Hepatitis?


Even after federal and local education campaigns, viral hepatitis seems to be surging. The Centers for Disease Control say it’s the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants.

Dallas County Health and Human Services alone saw a large increase in cases of hepatitis between 2003 and 2010: Cases of chronic hepatitis B grew almost fivefold. The number of those reported with hepatitis C
nearly tripled. Parkland Hospital currently has nearly four thousand new and existing patients.

The rate of new cases is less than in recent years. But Dr. Pranavi Sreeramoju, Parkland’s chief of Infection Prevention, believes the overall number in Dallas County is still too high for an area its size. Worse, there are likely more people with the disease who have not been diagnosed.
She explains why in this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs.

Three Key Things To Know about Hepatitis

1. . From 3.5 million to more than five million people in the United State live with chronic hepatitis B or C infection. Some don’t know they have the disease. When someone acquires a virus for hepatitis for the first time, there’s an incubation period before you develop an acute infection. Several years could pass without symptoms while the disease silently
damages the liver.

2.  Many people with hepatitis go undiagnosed. Those engaging in high risk behavior often don’t tell anyone. Dr. Srerramoju says the reason may be fear of being discovered or because people don’t know their behavior puts them at risk for hepatitis infection. Some are simply unaware of the disease and its consequences.

3. Hepatitis infections are preventable. People should avoid high risk behavior and undergo regular screenings. Children and adults should get the hepatitis B vaccination. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.