Hepatitis C is a virus that affects the liver. It is the leading cause of liver failure and end-stage liver disease and is a major cause of liver transplants in the United States.
African Americans are twice as likely to be infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) compared to the general U.S. population, according to the CDC. While African Americans represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up roughly 22 percent of the estimated 3.2 million persons with chronic HCV infection. Moreover, chronic liver disease, often hepatitis C-related, is a leading cause of death among African Americans ages 45-64.
Within the African American community, men in their 50’s show the highest rates of infection with 1 in 7 men living with chronic hepatitis C.
When first infected, a person can develop an “acute” infection, which can range in severity from a very mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalization. Acute hepatitis C infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection but for reasons that are not known, approximately 15% to 25% of people clear the virus without treatment.
Chronic hepatitis C infection is much more common. It can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct blood-to-blood contact. It can be contracted and spread through blood transfusions (performed before 1992), unprotected sex, intravenous drug use with dirty or shared needles, body piercings and tattoos using non-sterile ink and needles, and sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, razors, and nail clippers. It is not spread through exposure to sweat, urine or tears or close contact with an infected person who sneezes or coughs.
Who should get hepatitis C test done?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults be screened for hepatitis C at least once and that pregnant women be screened during each pregnancy.
Risk factors for hepatitis C:
- Recipient of a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 when universal screening of blood and blood products began
- Born between 1945 and 1965
- Exposed to blood and body fluids (firefighters, healthcare workers, etc.)
- Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers or other personal items with an infected individual
- Using and/or sharing needles to inject drugs
- Receiving tattoos and body piercings with unsterile needles (including ink)
- Born to an infected mother
- Receiving long-term hemodialysis
- Having unprotected sex with multiple sex partners or having a history of sexually transmitted diseases
The American Liver Foundation has a wealth of resources about preventing, screening/testing, treatment and living with hepatitis C, including a dedicated website, a national helpline – 1-800-GO-LIVER, on-line communities for people living with hepatitis C and a national database of liver specialists.
People do not think about their livers as much as other organs, but they should. Liver disease — and there are more than 100 types — is not something that just happens to alcoholics or drug users but some 30 million Americans, including children. Liver diseases have many causes including heredity, reactions to drugs or chemicals, lifestyle choices and viruses.
GET TESTED TODAY!