Hepatitis C – A Silent Epidemic
July 29, 2014
Knowing the Facts can be a Lifesaver
If we just heard of a disease that affects 74,000 people in Wisconsin (1.3% of the state´s population); a disease that is the leading cause of liver cancer; a disease that can shorten your lifespan by 15 years creating a 12-times greater risk of death, and a disease that leaves many of those infected clueless about having it – we might want to know a bit more about it. The disease is hepatitis C and almost 3 million Americans have it. And without generating much attention, there has been an approximately 50 percent increase in new cases in just two years and it is the world’s 8th biggest killer with the same mortality rate as HIV/AIDS. This is why World Hepatitis Day presents an opportunity to pay some attention to this serious disease.
Hepatitis C is a contagious disease caused by a virus that lives in human blood. According to Cheryl Robinson, Public Health Supervisor for PHMDC (Public Health – Madison and Dane County) “it can be a tricky bug in that most of the people who are infected don´t show any symptoms and some may not get sick for many years after being infected. When symptoms do show up they take the form of fatigue, nausea and vomiting, muscle and joint pain, loss of appetite and, in some cases, jaundice, where your skin and eyes become yellow.”
While the disease can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness, in the worst cases it can lead to advanced scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and other complications, including liver cancer or liver failure. Given these numbers, it seems strange how little attention this disease is getting.
The usual way that Hepatitis C is spread is when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus gets into the bloodstream of someone who is not infected. This can happen through multiple ways.
- Blood transfusions and organ transplants before 1992, when screening of donors began
- Sharing needles or other paraphernalia to inject drugs was and continues to be a very efficient way to transmit the virus.
- Body piercing or tattoos that were done in prisons, homes, or in other unlicensed or informal facilities can also help spread the disease
- In rare cases, Hepatitis C may be sexually transmitted.
- Babies born to mothers with Hepatitis C can get infected during childbirth
Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact, kissing, hugging, sneezing, coughing, breastfeeding or sharing food, eating utensils or glasses.
According to the CDC, baby boomers are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C than other adults, which is why they strongly recommend that people born between 1945 and 1965 get tested. As of June of this year, there have been 122 reported cases of Hepatitis C in Dane County.
If you think that you that you may be at risk for infection, you should give very serious thought to getting tested. The good news is that there are treatment options. There are several medications available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new treatments that appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous alternatives.
Knowing that you have it means that you can seek treatment and take steps to make sure that you don´t pass it on to others.
For more information about hepatitis C
Call your health care provider for more information about Hepatitis C testing. Uninsured Dane County residents who have one of the above risks can call (608) 266-4821 to get more information about Hepatitis C testing.
- Jeff Golden, Public Health Madison Dane County, (608) 243-0302