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Diseases that Enter Through the Mouth

Por Carola Sixto, Editor, DrTango Inc. -

About 3.2 million Americans suffer from chronic hepatitis C, while about 1.2 million people suffer from hepatitis B infection. The most common forms of hepatitis in the United States are A, B, and C, which are spread by different viruses and characterized by inflammation of the liver.

Hepatitis A is the only one that is commonly transmitted through food or water. This happens when a person that is infected with the virus doesn’t wash hands correctly after using the toilet, and then has contact with food during its preparation. This way, the virus spreads and is then excreted through feces. 

Among the easiest to contaminate are water, seafood, salads, sandwiches or cold food, fruit, fruit juices, milk, and dairy products, vegetables and cold drinks. There are other ways of transmission. For example, in 1998, there was an epidemic of hepatitis A in Shanghai, with 300,000 infected and 47 dead.  The virus was spread by people who ate raw clams, which had been collected from a location with contaminated water.

Therefore, among the preventive measures recommended by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), “bivalves should be cooked during four minutes at 85º - 90ºC or steamed during two minutes, besides controlling hygiene standards of food handlers if they’re sick.”
Another effective way of preventing hepatitis A is through vaccination. According to PAHO, vaccines “are extremely effective when given before exposure to hepatitis A virus (HAV) and may even confer some protection if given a week or more after exposure.

Learn More About Hepatitis
Although all types of hepatitis affect the same body organ, each type has its own characteristics and treatment:

• Hepatitis A:  It is considered the least threatening, and usually leaves no permanent damage to the liver. 99% of patients recover completely. It is transmitted through contaminated food or water, due to oral or anal contact. It can affect anyone, but people who travel to countries with a high prevalence of hepatitis A are at higher risk, as well as homosexual men, drug addicts, people with clotting disorders or chronic liver disease, and children in communities with high levels of the disease. 
Treatment: Not specific. In a few weeks or months, the disease disappears completely, without side effects.

•  Hepatitis B:This is a serious viral disease that affects the liver. It is estimated that this disease, at some point, affects one in 20 people in the United States. It spreads through contact with infected blood or body fluids. People at highest risk are those who have sexual contact with an infected person, those who have sex with more than one partner, gay men, people living in the same house with a chronic hepatitis B patient, drug addicts, people with hemophilia, and those traveling to areas with higher incidence of the disease.
Treatment: Two medications are used to treat this disease: Interferon and Lamivudine.

• Hepatitis C:About 1.8% of Americans have been affected by hepatitis C, although very few people know. 80% of patients become chronically ill. Like hepatitis B, it is transmitted through blood or body fluids of a person infected with the virus. Among the people at highest risk are those that use intravenous drugs, those with multiple sex partners, people who get tattoos with unsterilized syringes, patients that got blood transfusions before 1992, and children born from an infected mother.
Treatment: Depending on blood tests, a type of Interferon will be selected.

Finally, but not least important, hygiene is essential to prevent hepatitis and other diseases. After using the toilet and before eating, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This way, many viruses and bacteria will stay away from your home and your life.

Source: Hepatitis National Foundation, CDC and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).


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