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From the Office of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale R. Burstein 

Date: May 15, 2019 


CONTACT: Kara Kane, Public Information Officer

Email: kara.kane@erie.gov 

Phone: (716) 858-4941   



Erie County Department of Health Emphasizes Knowing Your Risks and Getting Tested

ERIE COUNTY, NY – May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and National Hepatitis Testing Day takes place on May 19. “We’re using May as a month to educate Erie County residents on how to assess their risk and protect themselves from diseases that can have quite serious health effects.” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “All hepatitis diseases affect the liver, but each type of hepatitis is distinct, with different risk factors, vaccine and prevention options and treatments.”


Viral hepatitis can infect the liver in three primary types – hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. With so many types of hepatitis – including “delta hepatitis”/hepatitis D and hepatitis E, which are not usually seen in the United States – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a five-minute online risk assessment tool. This tool can help people determine what vaccines may be recommended for them, and what testing options they should consider.  


“We are encouraging people to talk about their risk for hepatitis with their health care provider,” Dr. Burstein noted. “A simple conversation now can prevent serious and debilitating health complications down the road.”


Hepatitis A is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease that is typically spread when someone eats or drinks contaminated food or beverages, or as close contact with an infected person.


“Cases of hepatitis A were declining, but we are now seeing an uptick in outbreaks that start among people who inject drugs or use other substances and people who are experiencing homelessness,” Dr. Burstein explained. “After eight years of cases in the single digits, we saw a spike in 2018 with 32 cases.” She continued, “The Erie County Department of Health monitors all Erie County hepatitis A virus cases and organize large hepatitis A vaccine clinics when infected individuals who work with food in settings like restaurants or schools may have exposed others in the community to hepatitis A infection while they were ill.”


Hepatitis B virus is also preventable by a vaccine, which is recommended for all infants at birth and for adults who are at risk. “Hepatitis B virus is not common in the United States, but is seen in other parts of the world,” offered Dr. Burstein. Chronic hepatitis B can cause serious liver damage or progress to liver cancer. 


Hepatitis C virus is generally spread by sharing infected needles and syringes used to inject drugs, sex with an infected person, birth to an infected mother, and tattoos or piercings in unlicensed or informal settings. Before hepatitis C screening of blood products in 1992, people were also infected from blood transfusions or receiving other blood products. Some individuals have been infected from contaminated medical or dental equipment. Though there is no hepatitis C vaccine, a cure that works for most patients has been developed.


“The ‘Baby Boomer’ population accounts for the majority of current hepatitis C infections,” Dr. Burstein explained. “But it is also on the rise in young adults and women of child-bearing age who have a history of substance use.”  CDC and the New York State Department of Health recommend hepatitis C virus screening for all persons born between 1945 and 1965 and those with others at risk, including those with past or current injection drug use or intranasal drug use, receiving a blood transfusion before 1992, receiving tattoos from unlicensed artists or other needle stick exposures, receiving long-term hemodialysis, being born to an HCV-infected mother, or a history of incarceration. 




Erie County Department of Health – Hepatitis A: http://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=hepatitis-0


CDC Hepatitis Risk Assessment Tool: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment


CDC – Hepatitis A: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav


CDC – Hepatitis B: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv


CDC – Hepatitis C: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv