According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 2-4 million people in the U.S. have Hepatitis C (HCV) and MOST do not know they are infected. In the US, approx. 150,000 new cases occur annually and approximately 25% of affected persons have no symptoms.
Why is it important to be diagnosed? Because 60-80% of people with HCV may develop chronic disease and 20% of those affected develop permanent liver damage and scarring (cirrhosis) and20% of those with cirrhosis develop liver cancer according to the WHO.
In addition, WHO estimates 3% of the world’s population has been infected with HCV and more than 170 million carriers are at risk for cirrhosis and /or liver cancer. There are currently no vaccines to protect against HCV.
People at highest risk for contracting HCV are IV drug users, tattoo recipients (in unsterile environments), hemophiliacs and anyone who received blood transfusions or organ transplant prior to July 1992 (refer to WHO web site for other risk factors). But, many patients with Hepatitis C have no idea how they contracted the disease.
Today, transfusion-associated HCV is very rare due to the high intensity screening performed on blood prior to use (since July 1992).
While new HCV infections have decreased by over 80% in the last 15 years (in the USA), many people are still at risk. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends Hepatitis C screening for everyone born between 1945-1965. This particular age group did not experience strict blood precautions and blood product screening for hepatitis C during younger years.
Why detect HCV early? There is now a new pill that has an 89% chance of successful cure for people with Hepatitis C. The new drug, Sofosbuvir is prescribed to people with Hepatitis C. At $1000 a pill for 12 weeks ($89,000 for treatment), it is not cheap. The drug was recently FDA approved and liver disease specialists are excited about results. Insurance coverage may be available.
An inexpensive option to detect HCV is to donate blood. Donated blood is automatically tested for many communicable diseases including Hepatitis C. Best benefit: donating blood is free and gives life to someone in need of your donation. For more information on HCV and its treatment, refer toBaylorhealth.com.
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