According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control published last week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, hepatitis C killed almost 20,000 Americans in 2013. More of us died from hepatitis C than from 60 other infectious diseases combined, including HIV and TB, with ‘baby boomers’ at greatest risk.

 

Summary source: Preidt, R. Hepatitis C Now Leading Infectious Disease Killer in U.S. [Internet] HealthDay;2016 May 4 [cited 2016 May 8] Available from: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_158651.html

 CDC press release:   http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0504-hepc-mortality.html

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Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. Prior to 1992, it spread most commonly through blood transfusions and transplanted organs from people who had the disease, which is why “baby boomers” are more likely to be infected. Since 1992 when strict screening of blood and organ donations for hepatitis C was put into place, the most common ways it spreads is through sharing needles or syringes for injecting drugs, being stuck by a needle in a health care setting that contains blood from an infected person, or being born to a mom with the virus. Other less common ways are from using an infected person’s razor or toothbrush, since there may be blood on these items, or from sexual contact.

The hepatitis C virus is pretty tough as virus’s go, being able to ‘survive’ outside the body on hard surfaces (counter tops, bathroom sinks, door knobs etc.,) for up to three weeks. To give you a comparison, the flu virus only survives outside the body on hard surfaces for 2 – 8 hours.  Cleaning surfaces with a 1 part bleach to 10 parts water solution will kill the virus. (1/4 cup bleach mixed in 2 ½ cups water.)

Don’t think you’ll watch out for the symptoms, because in up to 80% of cases, there aren’t any!  This is why so many of us are infected and don’t know it.

When there are symptoms, they usually take 6 – 7 weeks to show up, but can happen anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months after being infected. They start off with a fever, tiredness, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and joint pain all of which are common symptoms of other viral infections, so can be easily mistaken for the flu, for example.  But, with hepatitis C you’ll also have pain in the abdomen, very dark urine, bowel movements the color of clay, and the biggest telltale sign - the whites of your eyes will turn yellow, as will your skin. 

For up to 85% of people with hepatitis C, the virus remains in their livers for the rest of their lives, being able to be spread to others through their blood. For many of them, it will end up causing liver failure, cirrhosis, liver cancer and for almost 20,000 people a year, they will die from it, as the report above showed.

So, the take home message from this is – get tested for hepatitis C. All it takes is a blood test to find out if you had or still have the virus. Talk to your health care provider if you:

  • were born between 1945 through 1965
  • were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
  • have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
  • work in health care or were exposed to blood through a needle stick
    or other sharp object injury.
  • are infected with HIV.
  • currently or formerly used injection drug, even if you only injected one time or did so many years ago.

There is treatment available for hepatitis C, but the first step is finding out if you have the virus.

For more information:

Centers for Disease Control
http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm#cFAQ31

World Health Organization – Fact sheet
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en/

National Institutes of Health
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/hepatitis-c/Pages/ez.aspx