Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter has proclaimed May to be National Hepatitis Awareness Month in Idaho. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and the No. 1 cause of liver transplants in the country. The proclamation helps shed light on the more than 3 million Americans living with Hepatitis C infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the fact that the majority of those people don’t know they are infected. It’s important for everyone to learn about the dangers of Hepatitis C and the importance of being tested if you have a higher risk of being infected.
In Idaho, more than 1,230 residents were reported with Hepatitis C in 2014; 51 residents died from the infection in 2013, and an additional 27 residents died from either liver failure or liver disease. If more residents had been made aware of their Hepatitis C status earlier, they could have potentially received treatment sooner and lived healthier and longer lives.
Gov. Otter’s proclamation helps to highlight the importance of testing for those who are at a higher risk for infection. Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person. In the past, surgery with blood transfusion spread this infection, but testing has improved so this is no longer a problem. New infections occur primarily through sharing contaminated needles or other devices used to inject drugs. There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C.
Nearly three in four people with Hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965 – the Baby Boomer generation. CDC recommends that all Baby Boomers receive a one-time Hepatitis C test. Other groups at an increased risk for Hepatitis C that should be tested are:
- Anyone who has ever injected drugs, including legal drugs and vitamins.
- Anyone treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
- Anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
- Anyone on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
- Anyone with abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
- Anyone exposed to blood through a needle stick or other sharp object injury.
- Anyone infected with HIV.
Now is the time to arm yourself with information about Hepatitis C and get tested if your risk for the disease is high. A diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. New treatments are safer and easier to tolerate compared to older interferon-based treatments and are usually able to cure Hepatitis C.
It is exciting that these medications are now available, but they can be expensive. If you have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and are not able to cover the costs, talk to your doctor about patient-assistance and co-pay programs. There may be resources to assist you.
– Rafe Hewett is coordinator for the Viral Hepatitis and STD Prevention programs and has worked for DHW since 2011.
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