WINTER 2013 OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF ORANGE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
Eli N. Avila, MD, JD, MPH, FCLM- Orange County
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver.
It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person.
Today, most people become infected with the HCV by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Tattooing in unlicensed and unsanitary settings is also a potential source of infection. Before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992, HCV was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. This has been seen in veterans who received blood transfusions prior to 1992.
Although uncommon, outbreaks of HCV have also occurred from blood contamination in medical settings.
Widespread health problem
It has become a serious public health problem. An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic HCV. Some scientists believe the actual number of people infected with HCV in the United States to be closer to 7 million. And to make things worse, approximately 12,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C-related liver disease.
In 2012 the leading national public health agency, the CDC, recommended that baby boomers – those born between 1945 and 1965 be screened for HCV. In New York, I had the privilege of working with the New York State Legislature to help pass the first law in the nation, which mandates healthcare facilities to offer a simple rapid screening test to this age group
Prevention starts with testing
Why is it so important to screen and test for this kind of hepatitis? Well because many who are infected with the HCV do not know that they have it until it is too late. By the time one is tested for it, it is because you may have symptoms from either liver cancer requiring expensive chemotherapy or terminal liver cirrhosis requiring a rare liver transplant.
Now the situation does not need to be this grim because unlike other viral diseases, there are actual cures for people with HCV if identified early during the disease.
Presently, the cure rate is about 84% with current therapy. However, there are new drugs that will soon be approved by the FDA. Studies show that these new medicines have cure rates approaching 98%; a treatment schedule of only twelve weeks instead of the current twenty-four weeks; one dosing per day; and minimal side effects.
There is HOPE.
HCV screening encouraged for:
n All people born between 1945 and 1965
n People who currently inject drugs, injected drugs in the past, even if it was just once or occurred many years ago
n Those who have had a sexually transmitted disease
n People who have/had sex with multiple partners
n HIV infected individuals
n People with abnormal liver tests or liver disease
n Anyone who received donated blood or organs before 1992
n Individuals who have been exposed to blood on the job through a needle stick or injury with a sharp object
n Those on hemodialysis ( a process that uses a man-made membrane (dialyzer) to: remove wastes, such as urea, from the blood; restore the proper balance of electrolytes in the blood; eliminate extra fluid from the body.)
n If you had tattoos or body piercings done in informal settings or with non-sterile instruments
Please take care of yourselves and be proactive. See your healthcare provider and be screened. For more information about Hepatitis C, please visit: http://www. cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/
In 2012 the leading national public health agency, the CDC, recommended that baby boomers - those born bewtwwn 1945 and 1965 be screened for the Hepatitis C virus.