With the month of May rapidly approaching, Swope Health asks you to take a pause from your usual springtime activities to get tested for Hepatitis C.
May is the month designated for Hep C Awareness by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some important things to know about Hep C:
- The Hepatitis C virus is one of the most significant health problems affecting the liver. More than half of the individuals diagnosed with Hep C will develop chronic infection. Hep C is the most common reason for needing a liver transplant in the United States.
- There are an estimated 2.2 million people living with the disease, and many may not experience any symptoms of disease. Nearly 40 percent of people with Hep C do not know they are infected.
- Baby boomers (born between 1945 – 1965) make up about 75 percent of those positive for the virus.
- Deaths from Hep C are highest in Black people and American Indian or Alaska natives.
Swope Health offers Hep C testing, which the CDC recommends for everyone age 18 or older. Additionally, you should continue to get routine testing if you have Hep C risk factors, which include HIV infection, injection drug use, recent incarceration or if you are receiving dialysis.
The Hepatitis C virus spreads by contact with the blood of an infected person. It can be transmitted in birth, by sharing drug-injection devices, sex with an infected person or even by unregulated tattoos or piercings.
Most people infected with Hep C virus don’t have symptoms or look or feel sick. If you have Hep C, you can spread it to other people even if you don’t have any symptoms.
There is no vaccination to prevent Hep C, but there is a treatment that can cure the disease. Swope Health is a leader in delivering Hep C treatment and has cured more than 300 people over the last four years.
In 2019, Swope Health launched a program for Hepatitis C Treatment. Led by Rachel Melson, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Outreach Clinic Director, this program focused on increasing testing for Hep C, and helping those with Hep C obtain treatment. She serves on the Advisory Committee for the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable and is a subject matter expert in Hepatitis C for the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council.
The current treatment is an antiviral drug, a pill that is taken once a day for 8-12 weeks. These antiviral drugs are more than 90 percent effective in curing the disease. “Cured” means the patient has no active Hep C virus in the body three months after finishing the treatment.
The current program offers nurse care management to support patients with high risk or additional complexity from other health issues. A nurse care manager works with each patient in an individual plan to address their specific needs.
“We rarely get to use the word ‘cure’ in medicine,” she said. “But this is such an effective treatment that we have actually been able to cure Hepatitis C. And we could see it eradicated in our lifetimes.”
Hepatitis C and YOU
Anyone who has tested positive for Hepatitis C can call Swope Health to participate in the program – regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay. For more information, call the Hep C Nurse at 816-321-3604.
If you are unsure of your Hep C status, you can ask to be screened at Swope Health. All adults age 18 and older should be tested at least once and continue to get routine testing if they have risk factors or conditions including HIV infection, injection drug use, recent incarceration or are receiving dialysis.
The ABCs of Hepatitis
The CDC offers explanations of the primary types of viral hepatitis: A, B and C.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection, caused by the Hepatitis A virus. The virus can make you sick, and you can spread the virus. There is a vaccination for Hepatitis A, and numbers of cases have declined dramatically. People who are at the greatest risk of Hepatitis A are those who use drugs, experience homelessness, have liver disease, or are or recently were in jail. In addition, men who have sex with men are also at risk.
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus. People who are infected can have lifelong infection, and over time, the disease can cause serious liver damage or cancer. Hepatitis B is preventable with a vaccine, which is recommended for all infants at birth. This disease is most common in Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus. Most people who are infected will have lifelong infection, which can cause serious problems including liver disease or liver failure, or cancer. This disease spreads through contact with blood from an infected person. Most people become infected by sharing needles or syringes in injected drug use. There may not be symptoms of disease. There are an estimated 2.4 million people living with the disease, and many may not know they are infected as they may not have symptoms. Baby boomers (born between 1945 – 1965) make up about 75 percent of those positive for the virus.