Hepatitis C is a serious condition that can be life-threatening.
Hepatitis C is a condition caused by a virus that affects the liver. If left untreated, over the course of years it can lead to severe liver disease (cirrhosis), liver cancer and sometimes death.
Between 1 and 2.5 percent of the population of the United States is infected with the virus, but approximately half are unaware of their infection. Baby Boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) currently are the most commonly affected (up to 5 percent), but the highest rate of new Hepatitis C infections is in the 16 to 25 age range.
The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is the most common blood-borne infection in the US, and, unlike HIV, it is very easily transmissible. The virus can live within a spot of dried blood on a surface for up to 3 weeks, and can survive in enclosed environments, like a needle, for up to two months. It cannot be spread through saliva, tears, urine, feces or other body fluids, and sexual transmission is extremely rare. Pregnant women with Hepatitis C can spread the infection to their baby, though this is also rare. Most commonly, people have historically been infected through contaminated needles used to inject drugs or vitamins, contaminated medical or dental equipment (prior to routine sterilization and universal precaution protocols), blood transfusions or organ transplants prior to 1992, tattoos, and through contact with the blood of family or household members. The early stages of the disease most often have no symptoms, but the virus can sometimes cause a short illness characterized by fatigue, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes.
In the past, treatment of Hepatitis C was lengthy, costly and carried a heavy burden of potential side effects. Those who were treated in the years prior to the development of current medication regimens often have horror stories to tell about their treatment experiences. However, in 2014, an entirely new generation of medications were released to the public, revolutionizing our approach to the disease, and offering new hope to those who tried and failed treatment in the past. Because the disease is so common, and treatment is now readily available, generally very well tolerated and results in greater than 95 percent cure rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued recommendations that all people born between 1945 and 1965 should be tested once in their lifetime for the virus, and people of any age with risk factors for acquiring the infection can be tested as frequently as deemed necessary by their medical provider.
The test for the HCV infection is either a finger-stick blood test or a venous blood draw, and can be done in many primary care offices. If initial testing is positive, additional testing is required to confirm the disease and determine the correct treatment. If you are interested in being tested for Hepatitis C, you can talk to your primary care provider. Free testing is also available without a referral at Health West, Inc., with clinics in Pocatello, Chubbuck, American Falls, Aberdeen, Preston, Downey and Lava Hot Springs. If a screening test is positive, many local resources exist to help patients with and without insurance to access additional testing and treatment, and the screening site will offer quick referral to local Hepatitis C Clinics.
Treatment of uncomplicated Hepatitis C currently involves taking one to three pills, once a day, for two to three months, and results in complete cure for more than 95% of people who undergo treatment, regardless of the stage of liver disease. If you were born between 1945 and 1965, or have any risk of exposure to HCV via the routes described above, please talk with a healthcare provider about testing
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