When hepatitis C infection rates rise, it can be a sign of other diseases also increasing in a community.
Health officials are concerned an increase in hepatitis C could be a precursor to other communicable diseases and health concerns in Madison County.
“In medical school we always said hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV run in the same circles,” said Dr. Jeff Mathison, a family medicine doctor affiliated with St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital. “You could even lump syphilis in there as well.”
Mathison said hepatitis is a viral illness that manifests into an inflammation of the liver.
Mathison said there are five different types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E.
“The three main ones that we talk about are hepatitis A, which is truly called viral hepatitis because that is the fecal, viral transmission,” he said. “Then there is hepatitis B and C, which are spread by blood or body fluid, and D and E you don’t hear much about at all. Those are subtypes that don’t infect by themselves. You would have to have hepatitis B and then also have a subtype of D or E. But you wouldn’t have just have hepatitis D or E. That’s why we don’t really talk about them.”
Mathison said the most common way hepatitis C is spread is through the sharing of intravenous needles. First responders, however, are put at risk of contracting the disease when dealing with emergency situations where blood is present or from accidental needle pricks.
“Let’s be frank and honest,” Mathison said. “If you are not participating in high-risk behaviors, the general reader has nothing to be concerned about, except if they happen upon an accident and they are trying to be a Good Samaritan.”
Robin L. Mourey, a registered nurse and an infection preventionist at Community Hospital Anderson, said hepatitis C can be a long-term illness lasting a person’s lifetime and can lead to serious liver problems or liver cancer.
“Hepatitis C is the most serious form of hepatitis and affects approximately four million Americans,” Mourey said. “The true incidence is unknown, but it is estimated that there are between 35,000 and 185,000 new cases each year.”
She said symptoms can be very mild and go unnoticed and some people have no symptoms of the disease.
“Receipt of donated blood and the sharing of personal items contaminated with blood, such as razors or toothbrushes, can also be means of infection,” Mourey said. “It can also be spread from mother to baby during birth and by having sex with an infected person.”
Mathison said some of the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C include the skin turning yellow, the whites of the eyes turning yellow and flu-like symptoms such as body aches and a low-grade fever.
“The reason we make a big deal about hepatitis C, is it can be dormant for quite some time,” he said. “You could carry around hepatitis C and not have signs of the infection for quite some time.”
Mathison said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all baby boomers be screened at least once in their lifetime for hepatitis C.
“We still have people placing themselves in risky behaviors so I don’t put an end date on this end,” he said. “If you were born before 1945, the likelihood of having hepatitis C is pretty small.”
While the virus is spread through blood, Mathison said blood products acquired through donations are “very, very safe.”
“You are not going to get hepatitis C or hepatitis B from a blood transfusion you get ordered by a physician,” Mathison said.
He said the spread of an infectious disease like hepatitis C is a concern for everyone.
Read full article: Hepatitis C: A concern for everyone | Local News | heraldbulletin.com
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