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Viral Hepatitis: Eight Ways to Help Protect Your Family

Protect yourself and your family with these eight steps.

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What’s the best way to protect your family against hepatitis? Follow these eight tips:

1. Ask your doctor about vaccination.

The vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are highly effective. They can be given in separate injections, or in a combined vaccine. No vaccine is available for hepatitis C.

2. Make hand-washing a priority.

Insist that family members wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom (or changing a diaper) and before handling food or eating. Washing with soap and water is fine, although alcohol-based hand sanitizers seem to be even more effective.

3. Watch out for other people’s blood.

There’s no way to tell that a particular person has hepatitis. “Many people with hepatitis have absolutely no symptoms whatsoever,” says Melissa Palmer, MD, clinical professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

Consequently, it makes sense to follow the lead of health-care workers and assume that all blood is infectious. “Any blood exposure can transmit hepatitis B and C,” says John W. Ward, MD, director of the division of viral hepatitis at the CDC.

“Of course, if someone needs first aid, you don’t want to avoid helping them. If blood contact does occur, wash the blood off as soon as possible.”

4. Beware of needles.

It’s possible to get hepatitis from hypodermic needles and the tools used to create tattoos and piercings. So be wary of them -- and encourage family members to do likewise. If a family member is determined to get a piercing or tattoo, he should get it only from a licensed professional working in a well-maintained facility.

Don’t be shy about sharing your concerns about infection control -- whether the person wielding the needle is a tattoo artist or your own physician.

“It’s good to express your concern to the people in your doctor’s office,” Ward says. “Let them know that you are concerned about the level of infection control in the practice.”

5. Know when to share -- and when not to.

Sharing works well with toys, tools, and brownies but is a terrible idea when it comes to toothbrushes, razor blades, nail files, and other personal items. This includes medical equipment and needles.

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