Increased testing key in the fight against Hepatitis C
This edition of The Wright Medicine features guest columnist Aloysius “Mark” Madhok, M.D., Ph.D., board-certified internal medicine physician-faculty at The Wright Center for Community Health.
World Hepatitis Day is July 28, and I cannot stress enough the importance of paying more attention to this extremely serious yet very treatable disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2.4 million Americans are currently living with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Unfortunately, roughly half of them don’t realize they have the disease, which is why awareness campaigns like World Hepatitis Day are integral in spreading the word in hopes of getting more people tested. This year’s theme is the highly appropriate “Hepatitis Can’t Wait.”
Hepatitis C is a liver infection contracted through the blood of an infected person. Many people are infected through sharing needles, or from equipment used for preparing or injecting drugs. While Baby Boomers have the highest incidence of chronic Hepatitis C infection, new cases actually occur most among young adults ages 20-39. According to the CDC, this age group was responsible for 63% of HCV infections in 2019.
Initially, Hepatitis C is quite subtle in its side effects, which is why so many people with the disease continue moving through their lives without realizing they have it. Without proper treatment, though, the virus eventually develops into a lifelong disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems, including liver disease, liver failure, liver cancer and even death.
That’s why early detection and treatment are so crucial to the equation. Anyone ages 18 and older should be screened for the disease at least once in their lives, via a simple and easily available blood test. So, for those of you who have never been tested, I recommend broaching the subject during your next primary care checkup.
For people who test positive for Hep C, treatment comes through oral medications that help clear the virus from the bloodstream. About 90 percent of patients are cured after eight to 12 weeks of treatment, according to the CDC.
In addition, there are a number of healthy habits patients can adopt to mitigate the disease’s progression, from reducing their alcohol intake to maintaining a healthy weight to being careful with over-the-counter medications to receiving regular medical care that includes monitoring for liver cancer. These safe and effective treatments have been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
As a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike and safety-net provider of comprehensive primary care services, The Wright Center for Community Health plays an important role in preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases like Hepatitis C. Besides incorporating HCV testing, prevention, care and treatment into our patient-centered medical home model approach, we also provide essential services like outreach, patient education, case management and care coordination in order to significantly improve the health outcomes for patients living with Hep C.
Even if you don’t think you have Hepatitis C, please make it a point to get tested at some point in the near future. And if you have persistent risk factors associated with HCV, periodic testing should become a regular part of your long-term health maintenance. This is a highly treatable, highly curable disease, but early detection really does make all the difference.
The Wright Center for Community Health offers Hepatitis care, including testing and treatment, at its primary care offices. To schedule an appointment, or for additional information, call 570-230-0019 or visit TheWrightCenter.org.