Healthy Living: Hepatitis C, the silent epidemic
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Viral Hepatitis or Hepatitis C is an infection that causes liver disease and cancer. Half of people waiting for liver transplants have it. CDC officials say after seeing years of decline in new cases, they're now seeing a spike.
"It looks like there is perhaps an increasing return in teenagers and young adults to injection drug use," said Dr. John Ward, the Director of the Viral Hepatitis Division at the CDC.
Street drugs and sharing needles is just one way Hepatitis C is transmitted. People who have regular contact with blood at work, like health care workers, have received blood transfusions or organ donations before July 1992, or were born to a hepatitis C-infected mother are also more at risk for the disease.
"Three point two million Americans are living with Hepatitis C. And most of the people who have it are unaware of their infection because it is a silent infection until a very advanced stage of liver disease develop," said Dr. Ward.
Dr. Savio John, a Gastroenterologist at Upstate University Hospital added, "The most common symptom is fatigue, which is a non-specific symptom."
In August the CDC recommended every baby boomer should be tested.
"The chance for a cure and clearance of the virus is better at the early stage than the latest stage. If you follow the CDC guidelines, they're estimating that we can prevent up to 120,000 deaths," Dr. Ward.
Health care professionals say one of the biggest challenges with getting people tested and treated for Hepatitis C is the stigma that's often attached to it.
"One of the major risks for Hepatitis is is drug injection. That conveys the message that if you have Hepatitis C, you must have injected drugs. And for many people that's true and for others, that's not true," said Dr. Ward.
Dr. Ward added, "It's a very common ailment, so I think people need to get rid of the stigma, be more understanding of what they can do to get treatment for the disease."
A simple blood test will determine if you have Hepatitis C. Then treatment is a mix of two oral medications and one injected that are taken for several months.
For more information on the Hepatitis C, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine or the World Health Organization.