PART III- HEPATITIS C THE NEW HIV?
Hepatitis C is spread predominately via blood- by IV drug use and to a lesser extent, blood transfusions. The virus was not discovered until many years after the discovery of Hepatitis A and B viruses and it was not screened from the blood banks until years after it’s discovery. Hepatitis C is curable most of the time, if it is caught early…which is a big “if.”
What makes hepatitis C scary is that patients who are infected can often have little or no symptoms until years or decades after exposure to the virus. While many people become infected in their wild days of youth, they do not succumb to the illness until they are middle aged. Infection with the hepatitis C virus is most prevalent in the baby-boomer generation, those born between 1945 and 1965.
Hopefully, as we recognize the burden of disease shifting towards other illnesses, clinical practice will shift with it. Screening for hepatitis C is not routine, as it is still unclear if there is benefit form it and patients are unlikely to admit to the main risk factor, prior IV drug use. If caught soon enough hepatitis C can be cured 70% of the time and new, experimental treatments could cure up to 90% of infections. This gives me hope that we can figure out a way to prevent the loss of many lives and even more years of suffering from the virus, but changes must be made first. Despite more than 15,000 deaths per year and an estimated 3 million people with current hepatitis C infection, relatively little funding and public awareness exists about this disease. Beyond the confusing naming of the illness discussed in the previous posts, the reason for the lack of support is obvious; Hepatitis C is a taboo disease, it’s usually gotten from IV drug use. I have little interest in passing judgment on things people may have done in their past. I do, however, see a source of suffering that some research and some will power could eliminate.
Dr. Bruce Feinberg