By: Kristina Robles
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month with the 19th being Hepatitis Testing Day, a day dedicated to encouraging Hepatitis testing and education.
Hepatitis is a family of viruses that cause inflammation of the liver, most commonly the Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C virus. If gone untreated, Hepatitis could result in serious health problems, including liver cancer and cirrhosis.
The most common way that the disease is spread is by sharing needles or other injection drug paraphernalia. In recent years, America has been within the grip of a devastating opioid abuse epidemic, one to which Long Island is not immune.
New York State reported that Suffolk County had the highest heroin deaths in the state, with 111 overdoses in 2014.[i] Recent numbers have shown, that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is surpassing heroine as Long Island’s deadliest opioid, with 220 deaths in 2016.[ii] With the rise of injection drug use (IDU), we are seeing an increase of Hepatitis C (HCV) infections, with the CDC reporting a 150% increase to the national HCV infection rate between 2010 to 2013[iii]
Here are some tips and information about Hepatitis C that everyone should know.
How Hepatitis C is Spread
HVC is spread when infected blood enters the body of someone who is not infected.
Most commonly by:
- Sharing needles or other injection drug paraphernalia.
- Being born to a HCV positive mother
- Needle-stick injuries in a healthcare setting.
Less commonly, HCV can be spread by:
- Sharing personal items that may be in contact with an infected person’s blood, e.g. razors or toothbrushes
- Having sexual contact with an infected person
- Unregulated tattooing and piercing
HCV is not spread by:
- Sharing eating utensils
Three out of four people with HCV were born from 1945-1965. It is believed, many Baby Boomers had been infected by contaminated blood transfusions and organ transplants, before 1992. Now, all blood and organ transplants are screened for the virus. It is important for people in this age group to get tested for HCV before the virus can damage the liver.
Acute vs Chronic
Hepatitis C can either be “acute” or “chronic”
- Acute Hepatitis C infection is a short-term illness within the first 6 months after exposure to the virus. Most of the time, acute infections lead to chronic infections.
- Chronic Hepatits C infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the virus remains in a body after 6 months. It can last a life time and lead to serious liver problems.
Most people who have HCV do not know they have it. Almost 80% of people with the virus show no symptoms. This is why it is important to get tested even if you feel “healthy”.
A small percentage of people may have symptoms such as:
- Upset stomach
- Yellowish skin
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools.
Keeping Others Safe
If you are diagnosed with HCV, always take these precautions to avoid giving the virus to others:
- Do not share needles, syringes or other equipment (spoons, cotton, water, etc.)
- Do not share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or other items that could have blood on them
- Clean up blood spills right away with bleach
- Keep cuts and sores covered with a bandage.
The only way to know if you have HCV is to get tested. A blood test, called a Hepatitis C antibody test, can tell if a person has been infected with the virus by looking for HCV antibodies in the bloodstream.
At LIAAC, we are helping to fight the spread of Hepatitis C, by offering HCV testing, education, and referral and linkage to medical care.
To schedule a Hepatitis C test with us, call our hotline at 1.877.865.4222. All tests are free and confidential.
[i] Office Of The New York State Comptroller. (2016 June) Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Addiction in New York State. Retrieved from https://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/june16/heroin_and_opioids.pdf
[ii] Deutsch, Kevin (2016 December 28) Fentanyl Outpaces Heroin as the Deadliest Drug on Long Island. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/28/nyregion/fentanyl-epidemic-long-island.html
[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.) Viral Hepatitis. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/featuredtopics/youngpwid.htm