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Hepatitis - Local people make videos to help educate the public

May 09, 1997

Local people make videos to help educate the public

By KATE COLEMAN

Staff Writer

Alton Korzendorfer has chronic hepatitis B. He calls the virus that inflames his liver a very nasty, aggressive bug that doesn't want to die.

"I don't either," he says.

Approximately 200,000 Americans contract the serious disease each year. Forty percent of those infected don't know how or when they contracted the disease. Most people fight off the infection themselves, but five to 10 percent become carriers. Hepatitis B carriers usually don't have symptoms, but remain infected for years and can pass the disease to others. An estimated five to 10 percent of carriers suffer severe liver damage and are at high risk for liver failure or liver cancer. Korzendorfer is in that group.

He's a scrappy, articulate advocate for educating the public about hepatitis B, the risks for contracting it and the importance of vaccinating to prevent it.

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Dr. Robert Parker, health officer for Washington County Health Department, credits him with inspiring the educational videos being produced through the health department.

"Alton has gotten us all to look at this as a public health issue. It takes someone like Alton to say `You've got to be more vocal,' " Parker says.

Dr. J. Ramsay Farah, a Hagerstown pediatrician who specializes in epidemiology, gathered a group of area teens and gave them information about hepatitis B. Participating students were Farah's daughter, Veronica Farah, and Leighann Wattenschaidt, both Smithsburg High School students; Kathleen Trent, from Williamsport High School; Northern Middle School student Simone Waterman; and Michael Wagner, a Hagerstown Junior College student. They studied, asked questions and learned about the disease. Farah, Korzendorfer, Parker and Heath Cross, a Health Department employee, also are in the videos.

One of the videos is designed for teen audiences; the other is aimed at parents, PTA and adult groups, according to Betty Shank, director of community education and public relations for Washington County Health Department.

Teens and parents are important targets of information about hepatitis B. Hepatitis B infections in teenagers have increased by 27 percent in the last 10 years. Most cases of hepatitis B occur among sexually active young adults.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through infected blood and other body fluids, including seminal fluid, vaginal secretions, breast milk, tears, saliva and open sores. The disease is more infectious than AIDS. A teaspoon of hepatitis B-infected blood contains 500 million viral particles.The same amount of blood infected with HIV contains five to 10 particles of the virus. Unlike HIV, which only can survive for a few minutes, it is possible for the hepatitis B virus to live outside the body in dried blood for up to three months.

Since 1982 there has been a vaccine for hepatitis B that's effective in at least 90 to 95 percent of healthy people. Despite this, hepatitis B is the only vaccine-preventable disease in which rates of transmission have not dropped after the introduction of a vaccine.

Pregnant women are screened for the virus, and, because they can pass it to their babies, newborns routinely receive the three-injection vaccination over a period of six months. All three doses are necessary for the vaccine to be effective. Hepatitis B vaccinations will be required for school children in Maryland beginning in the year 2000.

But there are many people - including preteens and teenagers who were born after routine newborn vaccination began - who have not been vaccinated. Korzendorfer wants them to be educated and protected. He doesn't want them to risk the pain and suffering he and his family are experiencing.

Dr. Farah agrees that information is important:

"Everyone knows about tetanus. Everyone should know about hepatitis B."

Hepatitis

For information about hepatitis, call:

- Hepatitis Foundation International at 1-888-838-4240

- American Liver Foundation's Hepatitis Liver Disease Hotline at 1-800-223-0179

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