Hepatitis C Awareness

Summary Points
• The importance of knowing about Hepatitis C
• How it is transferred

Hepatitis C is one of several viruses that can cause viral hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver. The liver performs many life-sustaining functions for the human anatomy that include breaking down blood so that the body and other essential organs can receive the nutrients needed to function properly. Hepatitis C, if left untreated, can slowly damage the liver over many years, often progressing from inflammation to permanent, irreversible scarring, which is also known as cirrhosis of the liver. Often, people have no signs or symptoms of liver disease or have only mild symptoms for years or even decades until they develop cirrhosis. As such, it is of great importance for our communities to understand and minimize risk behaviors that increase their exposure to Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is spread mostly by human blood-to-blood exposure. HCV is spread primarily by human blood-to-blood contact as to when a person’s blood comes into direct contact with an open bleeding area on another person, or by a contaminated blood transfusion or tissue/organ transplant, or needle. The most common way to get HCV is caused by sharing contaminated injection drug use equipment.

Studies have shown, that most people infected with hepatitis C do not know they are infected, have no symptoms, and lead normal lives though they will have some mild damage to their liver over time, but not enough to make them sick. Living with HCV can also make a person more likely to get liver cancer than those without chronic viral hepatitis.

As per the CDC National Hepatitis C Prevention Strategy, “The most effective means to prevent HCV infection and its consequences is to integrate HCV prevention activities into existing services, such as those for the prevent and treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and substance abuse.” Persons with certain risk behaviors, including men who have sex with men (MSM) and persons who inject drugs (PWID), tend to have higher rates of viral hepatitis when compared to other organizations. Because HIV, HBV, and HCV share common modes of transmission, on average, one-third of HIV-infected persons are co-infected with HBV or HCV. Viral hepatitis C infection can persist for decades without symptoms; therefore, a vast majority of infected Americans remain unaware of their infection status and are not receiving necessary care and treatment. As a result, viral hepatitis is a leading cause of liver disease in the United States and the most common reason for liver transplantation.

Awareness of HCV is an important public health issue that Empowerment Resource Center actively advances in our communities through the following initiatives: promoting regular screening for Hep C, providing risk-reduction counseling, offering outpatient substance abuse therapy, and prevention programming that promotes safe syringe and injection practices. We believe that all of these components are paramount to the overall health strategy for decreasing health disparities. In addition, Empowerment Resource Center also strives to maintain effectiveness in linking Hep C clients to treatment and care. Active and timely linkage to care, following the diagnosis, is essential for improving health outcomes one client at a time.

For more information on Hepatitis C, please contact Empowerment Resource Center at 404-526-1145 or http://www.erc-inc.org/.

Author:
Tanesha Taylor
Director of Programmatic Operations, Empowerment Resource Center

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