Hepatitis C Cases Rising: Do You Need to Be Tested?
As the number of new hepatitis C virus infections keeps rising, federal health authorities are urging people at risk to get tested.
Nearly half of people living with the virus don’t know they’re infected. Many people don’t have any symptoms. Left untreated, people can develop liver cirrhosis, which can cause liver cancer. They can also spread the virus to other people and their children.
A simple blood test can tell whether someone has hepatitis C. Treatment calls for taking anti-viral drugs for 8 to 12 weeks.
“The treatment is incredibly effective,” said Mitchell Shiffman, MD, medical director of Bon Secours Liver Institute. “The cure rate is 97 to 99 percent.”
The rising number of hepatitis C infections is primarily a result of increasing injection drug use associated with America’s growing opioid epidemic, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over five years, the number of new infections has nearly tripled, reaching a 15-year high. The highest number of new infections is among 20- to 29-year-olds.
“If you’re a young adult who’s used IV drugs, you absolutely should be tested,” Shiffman said.
Still, most of the 3.5 million Americans living with hepatitis C are baby boomers born from 1945 to 1965. Baby boomers are six times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than any other age group. They also face greater health risks because they’ve had the virus since the 1960s or 1970s.
Chronic hepatitis C infection is the leading reason people need liver transplants in the United States.
While most people are asymptomatic, others might feel overly tired because, as the virus inflames the liver, it uses up energy. Liver cirrhosis increases fatigue and can cause internal bleeding and confusion.
If you have liver cirrhosis, the clock is ticking. Eventually, it can lead to liver cancer.
“Many people who have cirrhosis and liver cancer are not aware they have had chronic HCV for decades,” Shiffman said. “If they had found out they had hepatitis C even five years ago, they could have been treated and cured and may not have cirrhosis or liver cancer today.”
CDC officials recommend Hepatitis C testing for the following groups of people:
- People born from 1945 through 1965.
- Anyone who has ever injected illegal drugs, including those who injected only once many years ago.
- Recipients of clotting factor concentrates made before 1987.
- People who had blood transfusions or solid organ transplants before July 1992.
- Anyone who has ever received long-term hemodialysis treatment.
- Anyone infected with HIV.
- Patients who have signs or symptoms of liver disease such as abnormal liver enzymes.
- Children born to mothers who have tested positive for hepatitis C.
For more information or to find a healthcare provider near you, call 804-359-WELL or visit http://goodhelpdocs.com/.