Hepatitis C is now the Most Dangerous Infection in North America
Our Neighbours to the South
On Wednesday, May 4, 2016 the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released news1 that hepatitis C infections in the US now cause more deaths than 60 other infectious diseases combined. This list includes serious infections such as HIV, pneumococcal disease, and tuberculosis.
In 2014 alone, 19,659 Americans died from hepatitis C infections. While 3.5 million individuals in the US currently have hepatitis C, the CDC says that about 50% are unaware that they have the potentially fatal condition. This is unfortunate since hepatitis C is treatable, with a 90% cure rate after a 12-week course of medication. Without treatment, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis, liver inflammation, liver cancer, and other complications.
Hepatitis C: A Silent Infection
As many as 350,000 Canadians could be living with hepatitis C, many of whom are unaware that they are infected, thus continuing to spread the virus. Although there is a vaccine to prevent the spread of the hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The good news is that with new treatments, hepatitis C is now a curable infection.
The liver is the body’s largest solid internal organ and is responsible for vital functions such as filtering of the blood, metabolizing nutrients and substances in medications, storing energy, and even synthesizing proteins that help blood to clot when we bleed. Although the liver has the ability to repair itself, it is still susceptible to damage from viruses, toxins, inherited conditions, and sometimes our own immune system.
Hepatitis C begins as an acute infection, and although some manage to clear the virus on their own, about 75% go on to develop chronic hepatitis C. The danger in hepatitis C is that many people experience either no symptoms or nonspecific ones, such as mild fatigue and discomfort in the abdomen. But after many years of unwittingly carrying a chronic hepatitis C infection, individuals can end up with liver inflammation and scar tissue buildup, so that eventually, damage to the liver will result in severe fatigue, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, bleeding from veins in the esophagus or stomach, and confusion. It is vital to identify and treat hepatitis C before severe damage to the liver occurs.
“It’s very important that individuals with risk factors get tested for the hepatitis C virus.” says Dr. James Gray, Chair of the Gastrointestinal Society and Canadian Society of Intestinal Research Medical Advisory Council, and Gastrointestinal Society co-founder, “Ideally, we can put an end to the spread of hepatitis C by diagnosing, treating, and curing those who have the infection.”
Now is your time: Talk to your doctor today
The Gastrointestinal Society released a video in 2015 about hepatitis C, to spread awareness and educate Canadians on the risk factors for this disease. The fast-paced, whiteboard-style animation includes information on diagnosis, testing, treatment, management, symptoms, and more, so you can do your part to help stop the spread of this disease.
What does it take to find out if you have been infected with a hepatitis C virus? Ask your doctor for a simple blood test. The sooner you know if you’re infected, the sooner you can begin treatment with the cure.