STD Quarterly: Help patients know risks for hepatitis

When discussing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), do you include information on hepatitis A and hepatitis B, the only STDs that can be prevented through immunization?

It may be time to update your practice. According to a new survey of Americans ages 18-35, about half of respondents did not realize that hepatitis A and hepatitis B can be sexually transmitted, and an equal number said they did not know the two are vaccine-preventable. The survey was conducted on behalf of the American Social Health Association (ASHA) of Research Triangle Park, NC, as part of an educational initiative surrounding the April 2004 observance of STD Awareness Month.

How it is spread

Hepatitis A and hepatitis B cause more than 170,000 infections and more than 5,000 deaths each year in the United States, according to ASHA. About 25% of hepatitis A cases can be attributed to sharing living quarters with an infected person or sexual contact. The virus can be spread during oral-anal sex by the contaminated stool of someone who has the disease. Hepatitis B can be spread from person to person via direct or indirect contact with infected blood or body fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions; 54% of hepatitis B infections are transmitted sexually, according to ASHA.

ASHA has developed an educational brochure, a one-page checklist for risk factors, and a one-page overview of the survey findings, all of which are available as Adobe PDF files at the organization’s web site, www.ashastd.org. Click on the banner headline, "Survey Suggests Lack of Awareness Heightens Risk for Sexually Transmitted Diseases," on the opening page. Scroll down to the bottom of the press release for links to the three publications.