May is National Hepatitis Awareness month and this year the CDC is designating May 19th as National Hepatitis testing day. This is an excellent reminder for the healthcare community and others to get tested.
Not me, you say? Let me tell you why ignoring this might be a deadly mistake. According to the CDC over 4 million people in the US have chronic hepatitis C and most have no idea. Many of our baby boomers are infected and because they show no symptoms, they are clueless to the infection and the damage it is doing to their bodies. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/TestingDay/index.htm
Let me use an example that hits closer to home for my fellow Coloradans. Back in 2009 after news spread of a possible outbreak of Hepatitis C in the Denver area, thousands of letters went out to unsuspecting folks who may have been possibly put in contact with drug diverted syringes. As of October of that year, from July to October, 4700 people were tested. Of the positive results, only half could be linked back to the drug diversion done by Kristen Parker. The other half had no idea they had Hepatitis C, how long they may have had it or when they may have been exposed.
Prior to the universal precautions and extra education brought on back in the 80’s as a way to curb the spread of AIDS, among other diseases, we are far better equipped to stop the spread of such diseases. Yet the CDC reports while 45-85% of people with HCV are unaware, it is the fastest rising cause of cancer related deaths. And these numbers may be rising.
Back in 2009, when I first heard of Hepatitis C and the havoc it can wreak, I was thinking of the our outbreak and all the unsuspecting victims who had heinously been infected due to a breach in the system which was supposedly put in place to keep patients like us safe. In my research and my early advocacy work, I focused on drug diversion in healthcare settings as well as passing legislation to make it easier to report abuses.
But over the years and thanks to collaboration with experts across the country, I have found that while healthcare settings might be the focus, there is still the issue of IV drug use. A recent CDC report stated that 77% of acute (showing symptoms) hepatitis cases studied were caused by injected drug use. The spread was due to either shared needles or equipment. And this is only considering people who showed symptoms of the disease, those with chronic HCV can be asymptomatic for years.
As I wrote last week, this is precisely the case in Southeastern Indiana, where an outbreak of HIV due to injected drug use ocurred.
But there is some good news in all of this. Over the years better drugs have been developed to help treat Hepatitis C. We are so much further along than we were just a couple of years ago. And while the journey continues, we can only successfully treat those who know they are infected.
Will you think about getting tested now?