Understanding Hepatitis: A, B, C & Me

July 02, 2019

When we talk about the benefits of vaccinations, we stress the importance of protecting yourself from hepatitis. Once you learn what hepatitis is, why it can be so difficult to recognize, when it can (or can’t) be treated, and how effective vaccines are for protection, you’ll want to make sure your whole family is up to date on their shots.

 

What is Hepatitis?

Yellow eye

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that’s usually caused by a virus. Of the five types of viral hepatitis, Hepatitis A, B, and C are most common in the United States. Millions of Americans may have the disease but do not experience any symptoms, while others become extremely sick.

The symptoms of Hepatitis A, B and C are consistent, with a few minor differences:

Table with hepatitis symptoms

 

Hepatitis A

Tends on the street

Caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV), Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food or water, or exposure to people who are infected with the illness. HAV is often found in situations where there is unclean water, poor sanitation, and/or a lack of personal cleanliness.

While it is less common in the U.S. then either Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, as recently as 2016, a widespread outbreak drove a 30% increase in Hepatitis A infections. And, in 2017, California’s governor declared a state of emergency in response to a Hepatitis A outbreak that occurred in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz counties.

Infected children under six years of age usually won’t show any symptoms, while adults with HAV will experience the symptoms outlined above. Symptoms typically last about two months and result in antibodies that protect against reinfection.

Vaccination is your best protection: 95% of adults who get a single dose of the vaccine develop protective antibodies, and nearly 100% of adults who receive two doses develop defensive antibodies. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a division of the Centers for Disease Control, recommends vaccines for:

  • All children at one year of age
  • People who are homeless or who suffer from irregular housing situations
  • Those at risk for complications from HAV
  • Anyone who would like to protect themselves against the disease

 

Hepatitis B

Picture of an ill liver

Caused by the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), Hepatitis B is an infectious disease that can be fatal. If untreated it can lead to death from cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. HBV is spread through the blood or body fluids of an infected person. It may also be passed by sharing needles or syringes (drug use), or from mother to baby at birth. The disease incubates for about 90 days before symptoms begin to show.

For some, HBV is a short but painful illness, but others may suffer for much longer—a small percentage of people are infected for life. Ninety-percent of infected babies will suffer chronically, while only 2-6% of adults will have the same reaction—and many children won’t show symptoms at all, though they still carry HBV. Symptoms (see above) will last anywhere from several weeks to six months. Those who develop chronic hepatitis may experience severe liver damage. The earlier in life it’s contracted, the more damage HBV usually does.

While those with chronic HBV can take medications to manage their symptoms, the best treatment is vaccination. ACIP recommends vaccinations for:

  • All infants and children under 19 years of age
  • People at risk through sexual exposure
  • People at risk through blood exposure
  • Those who travel internationally to countries where HBV is more concentrated
  • Those who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)
  • Patients with chronic liver disease or HIV (individuals may be coinfected with both diseases)
  • Those who wish to protect themselves against HBV

 

Hepatitis C

Man smoking a cigarette

Caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), Hepatitis C can range from a mild illness to a serious lifelong disease leading to permanent liver damage. HCV is a bloodborne virus, most often passed through needles, syringes, or other drug equipment. It can also spread through insufficient sterilization of medical equipment, or untreated blood or blood products.

When someone becomes infected with HCV, they generally don’t show any symptoms that would encourage a doctor’s visit. When they do begin to experience symptoms, they will include those outlined above. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C because the virus mutates too quickly, but five years ago the FDA approved a treatment for those who are infected. While being extraordinarily costly, this is the first treatment that has helped patients without requiring a liver transplant.

Because both viruses spread in a similar manner, many people with HIV are also infected with HBV (1 in 10) or HCV (1 in 4). Liver disease is a major non-AIDS cause of death for those infected with HIV due to the coinfection.

 

Get Vaccinated!

If you believe yourself to be at risk for Hepatitis, contact AltaMed to learn about appropriate immunizations. We can all do our part to keep the rates of infection down and to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. Call us at (888)499-9303 to learn more.

 

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The Value of Preventive Cancer Screenings for Early Detection

June 03, 2019

If you’re interested in improving your health and taking care of your body, you may already be getting more fit and active, making better choices about your diet, and seeing your doctor for regular checkups. One of the best ways to protect your good health is to follow any recommendations from your doctor for preventive cancer screening tests. 

Why Should I Have Cancer Screenings?
AlatMed cancer screenings

 
Cancer screenings help find cancer early, sometimes even before there are symptoms, when it may be easier to treat or cure. Cancer tests may involve:

  • Physical exams
  • Lab tests (such as blood or urine samples)
  • Imaging procedures (such as MRIs or ultrasounds)
  • Genetic tests

It is important to remember that being referred for a test doesn’t mean that your doctor believes that you have cancer. The tests often help rule out cancer as a possibility. 


When Will My Doctor Recommend Screenings?
AltaMed woman and doctor


 
Even if you have no symptoms, preventive cancer screenings are recommended if you are at risk for certain cancers. This may mean that you have:

  • A family history
  • A personal history
  • Certain previously identified genetic signs
  • Previous exposure to cancer-causing substances either through smoking or in your workplace
  • Developed a blood clot without a clear reason

Doctors are also more likely to recommend screenings for older patients, but if you have more risk factors, your doctor may suggest screenings at a younger age than usual.


Types of Screenings
AltaMed types of screening

 
You doctor may recommend one or more of the following screenings: 

  •  Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy screenings look for early signs of colorectal cancer and are usually performed on people aged 50-75.
  • An X-ray called a low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) is used to screen for lung cancer in those between the ages of 55 – 74 who have a history of heavy smoking.
  • Mammograms screen for breast cancer and have been shown to reduce deaths from the disease for women aged 40-74. 
  • Pap & HPV testing are used for early detection and treatment of cervical cancer. Testing typically begins at 21 and ends at 65, provided the woman is at normal risk.

Other screenings outlined by the National Cancer Institute are used to look for:

  • Liver disease (blood test)
  • Genetic mutations that lead to breast cancer (breast MRI)
  • Ovarian cancer (blood test and ultrasound)
  • Abnormalities leading to skin cancer (skin exams)
  • Prostate cancer (blood test)


Early Detection is Key
AltaMed early detection

 
Early detection is the number one goal of these screenings. By finding any abnormalities at their earliest stage, you can reduce the chance of the cancer spreading, and improve the chances of treating or even curing it. 

The best way to stay healthy and make sure you are getting the screenings you need is to get regular health checkups. Depending on your personal and family health histories, your doctor may recommend additional screenings for you.

Contact AltaMed for more information about the health screenings you need at (888) 499-9303

Child Immunizations: What, Why, When

August 01, 2019

We all want to make the best choices for our children and keep them safe. Friends and family, social media, and news reports may have a lot to say about vaccinations for children, but do you have the facts? What are vaccinations, why should your child get immunized, and when do they need them?

Let AltaMed take the mystery out of vaccinations so you can protect your child from preventable diseases and help protect those around you.

 

What Are Vaccinations?

Vacine

Modern childhood vaccinations have been around for about 60 years. They were developed to stop the spread of infectious diseases that once killed thousands of people each year. 

By injecting a small amount of weak or inactive germs into the body, a child’s immune system learns to recognize the disease and develops antibodies (proteins that fight viruses, bacteria, and other harmful substances) to eliminate the threat of illness. This prepares the immune system to protect a child’s body if they ever come into contact with that disease again.

 

Why Should I Vaccinate My Child?

Child closing her eyes while being vaccine

Getting your child vaccinated between birth and six years of age protects them from 14 deadly diseases including measles, mumps, and polio. Vaccinating your child also helps protect your friends, family, and neighbors who are at greater risk of disease and cannot get vaccinated themselves because they are too young or have certain health problems. 

Children are most vulnerable when they are born, and they depend on you to make the right choices to protect them. It is critical to stick to the vaccination schedule provided by your child’s doctor. No matter the age, preventing dangerous diseases outweighs any possible side effects such as slight pain, swelling, or low-grade fever that your child may experience. Take the proper action to build your child’s immune system during their critical developmental stages. 

 

How Safe Are Vaccinations?

Chemist working in her laboratory

The short answer is very. Vaccines are constantly re-evaluated and studied by scientists and researchers. Serious reactions to vaccines are rare, occurring only once in every million doses. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Immunization Safety Office, the current vaccine supply in the United States is the safest in history.

 

Are There Rules or Laws About Vaccines?

Vaccines and a judge's gavel

The state of California requires all children attending public or private school to receive the doctor-recommended immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases. This mandatory vaccination helps keep overall immunity levels high and protects the community members, including other schoolchildren, who cannot receive vaccinations.

 

Vaccinating Babies & Children

Latino mother vaccinating her babies

The recommended immunization schedule that promotes immunity for infants and children begins at birth and carries through to age six. There are 10 vaccines for babies and children for 14 diseases. Although babies are typically born with strong immune systems—and also receive some protection from their mothers through the transmission of antibodies during breast feeding—they still need help fighting bacteria, germs, and viruses. 

Even the most cautious parent cannot stop a child from being exposed to disease 100% of the time. Whether it’s from unvaccinated friends, neighbors, or family, or from public places (day care, the grocery store, the park), unvaccinated children under the age of five are at risk of getting sick from a disease.

 

Vaccinating Adolescent Children

Teenager being vaccine

The CDC recommends four vaccines for almost all children ages 11-12: meningococcal, human papilloma virus (HPV), the collective Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), and influenza (the flu). Meningococcal diseases are rare but are spread by sharing food and drinks or kissing. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts, and is associated with cervical cancer in women, and other types of cancers in both men and women. 

The Tdap vaccine is a booster for the children’s DTaP vaccine, necessary for older children because the effectiveness of the first vaccine wears off over time. Doctors recommend that all children six months and older receive the flu vaccine every year because the flu virus changes each year.

 

It is Free!

Small baby getting a vaccine

We encourage you to follow the immunizations schedule into their adolescence, so they are protected during every stage of their life. Here at AltaMed, all the vaccinations the CDC recommends are available free of cost! We provide childhood, adolescent, and HPV immunizations for patients 0-17 years of age. 

Visit an AltaMed location near you or contact us at (888) 499-9303 to schedule an appointment with your provider to stay on track of your child’s immunization timeline.