Top Five Things to Know About Hepatitis C
You may be at risk for hepatitis C, a blood-born infection that’s often referred to as the "silent killer.”
Since people infected with hepatitis C commonly have no symptoms, it may arrive without warning. But when hepatitis C is not diagnosed or treated, it can result in serious liver disease as well as liver cancer.
Some facts on this disease can help you avoid it. Here are the top five things that you should know about hepatitis C.
- All baby boomers should be screened for possible infection. Anyone born from 1945–1965 is five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than members of other generations. Approximately 75 percent of people living with hepatitis C were born during this timeframe, and they all should ask their primary care provider for a screening. It is a simple blood test – one that can save your life or start treatment to cure the illness.
- Hepatitis C is a virus spread by exposure to infected blood. Rates of hepatitis C infection were highest during the 1960s–1970s, due in part to the virus spreading due to IV drug use, blood transfusions, tattoo placement or sexual transmission. Today’s infection control and blood transfusion practices are much safer. Baby boomers still are at risk even if they have no known risk factor for infection. Your medical provider can help you get screened for hepatitis C, especially if you have some of the risk factors in your history.
- Most people infected with hepatitis C have few or no symptoms, so they may not know they are infected. Just because you feel good, does not mean that you do not have it. That’s why screening is critical – serious damage to the liver can occur. Hepatitis C screening can detect the virus early and cure it before the damage happens.
- Hepatitis C is a threat, as it’s one of leading causes of liver cancer and this infection leads to many liver transplants as well. Left untreated, it can result in advanced scarring of the liver (called cirrhosis), liver failure or liver cancer.
- There is a cure. Every patient with hepatitis C should be offered treatment to achieve cure. Antiviral medications are taken by mouth once daily, have few if any side effects and can safely and effectively cure hepatitis C at a rate of 95-100 percent. After hepatitis C is cured, there is a decrease in liver inflammation, in liver damage and decreases in the risk for liver cancer and liver-related deaths. The hepatitis C cure also prevents transmission of the virus to other close contacts or family members.
To take care of your liver call your medical provider to talk about screening for hepatitis C now. If you test positive for it, ask for a referral to an Avera liver specialist who can evaluate you for potential liver damage and to get your treatment started.
By Becky Klemme, CNP and Christine Pocha, MD PhD, Avera Center for Liver Disease/Transplant