Hepatitis C awareness stressed
May has been designated hepatitis C awareness month in Colorado, and the Visiting Nurse Association here is making an effort to alert Moffat County residents to the dangers this disease presents.
Hepatitis C is viral contagion that affects the liver, but can be carried by an infected person for several years without any symptoms. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is estimated that 5.69 million residents in the United States, and 72,000 Colorado residents, are infected with hepatitis C. Up to half of those infected don’t know they carry the virus, and 75 percent of infected persons may have no symptoms. Once infected, a person could carry the virus for many years or for life.
Communities in Moffat County have seen a rise in cases of hepatitis A, B and C, which is due to more scrutiny and an actual rise in infection rates, VNA Community Health Director Marilynn Bouldin said.
“Hepatitis C is called the silent epidemic someone could have the infection and have no idea they’re infected,” she said. “Someone with hepatitis C might have not symptoms until they become very ill.
“Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. There is for types A and B but not for C.”
Hepatitis C is a virus of the blood and certain other body fluids, and is transmitted only when infected blood enters a break in the skin and mucous membranes.
Risk factors for contracting hepatitis C include receiving a blood transfusion, blood product or organ transplant before 1992, injection drug use, hemodialysis, and on-the-job exposure to a needle stick. Other risky behavior includes sharing a toothbrush or razor that is contaminated with infected blood, sharing a straw when snorting drugs, having unprotected sex with an infected partner or multiple sex partners, and tattoos and body piercing with non-sterile equipment or ink.
There is a considerable number of people in Moffat County at risk, Bouldin said.
“We have a significant population of people who have multiple sex partners, and a significant population of people with alcohol problems which we know are at a higher risk,” she said. “We also have a fair number of young people getting piercings and tattoos.”
Hepatitis C is not spread through casual contact or in typical school, office or food-service settings, and is not spread through coughing, sneezing or drinking from the same glass.
Bouldin said that anyone who thinks they may have been infected with or shows symptoms of hepatitis C should contact a health provider. Tests to detect hepatitis C antibodies or the hepatitis C virus should be sought from a personal physician or the care clinic of The Memorial Hospital.
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