By Donna Sciacca, Program Manager
Hepatitis C is a virus that is transmitted from person to person by exposure to infected blood. There are now over three million Americans who are infected with chronic hepatitis C, with an estimated two million more infected but unaware. Every year, approximately 15,000 Americans die from hepatitis C-related conditions. Hepatitis C, left undiagnosed and untreated, is the leading cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis. Hepatitis C is also among the leading causes for liver failure and liver transplant.
Despite these statistics, most people know very little about viral hepatitis. Hepatitis C is about 10 times more contagious than HIV and can survive outside the body for up to four days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis C is called a "silent epidemic" because most people have no noticeable symptoms for many years--even decades. Among the largest population being diagnosed with hepatitis C is baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965). The American Liver Foundation joins the CDC in recommending that all baby boomers be tested for hepatitis C. It is estimated that the new testing recommendations could identify as many as 800,000 people with the virus.
In addition to baby boomers, those who should be tested for hepatitis C include:
-Anyone who has ever injected illegal drugs--even once
-Anyone who has received blood transfusions or solid organ transplants prior to 1992
- Anyone who received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
-People who have gotten unsanitary tattoos or body piercings
-People who work in or have been housed in prison
-People who have ever received long-term hemodialysis for kidney failure
-Health care workers or emergency responders
-People living with HIV
-Anyone who was born to a mother with hepatitis C
-Anyone whose blood work shows consistently high liver enzyme levels
Hepatitis C is now a curable disease. New oral medications were approved in December 2013 that cause fewer side effects and reduce treatment time. Up to 90% of people who receive and complete treatment can be cured of the disease. Ask your health care provider to test you for hepatitis C. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner people can take steps to investigate treatment options.