Understanding hepatitis C: A growing public health concern

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 14, 2024

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. 

It is becoming a big public health concern in many counties, including Lawrence County, encouraging us to review some information and prevention methods for the community.

Hepatitis C can be described as “acute,” meaning a new infection, or “chronic,” meaning long-term infection. 

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Acute hepatitis C occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C can be a short-term illness, but for most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.

Hepatitis C is a tricky disease because many people who have it may not have any symptoms or feel sick. 

Even without the symptoms, though, the virus can hurt a person’s liver slowly over time. 

Some might get liver problems that are not too bad, but others can get very sick. 

More than half of people who become infected with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection, which can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer and even death.

How do people get Hepatitis C? 

It spreads mainly through blood that has the virus in it or body fluids that contain blood.

Currently, the most common mode of transmission in the U.S is due to injection drug use by sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease.

Hepatitis C is rarely transmitted by blood transfusion or organ transplantation. Even though the risk is low, it can sometimes be spread through sex. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or HIV, sex with multiple partners or rough sex appears to increase a person’s risk for hepatitis C.

Others at risk include people with certain medical conditions, including those who received maintenance hemodialysis.

Why is it important to test for Hep C? 

As of April 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that primary care providers screen all patients 18 years and older at least once in their lifetime for hepatitis C and routine periodic testing is recommended for people with ongoing risk factors.

Right now, there are no vaccines for hepatitis C, so it is very important to be careful and get tested, especially if you are at risk. 

Testing is the first step to curing hepatitis C. 

Let’s keep our livers healthy by getting tested, staying informed, and seeking timely treatment.

— This article was provided for the Ironton Tribune by Mohammad Abdulrahman, MBBS, MPH, and Paola Litton, MPH, of the Lawrence County Health Department.