The hepatitis C virus has turned into a pressing public health issue. With no vaccine to prevent the disease, HCV is spreading rapidly. Although it is the most common blood-borne viral infection and three times more prevalent than HIV, many are unaware of the devastating impacts of the disease.
Hepatitis C often results in severe health complications such as fibrosis, cirrhosis, advanced liver disease or hepatocellular cancer if left untreated. It is the leading indication for liver cancer and liver transplants and the No. 1 cause of death for patients living with HIV.
The estimated number of infected Americans is a whopping 3.2 million. Because of the progressive nature of the disease, many infected patients do not know they have contracted the virus. Symptoms do not appear for 10 or 20 years, making early intervention critical.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that adults born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for the disease. The matter is so pressing that New York State passed legislation in 2013 requiring HCV tests be offered to baby boomers when visiting their primary care doctors or receiving hospital care. CDC recommends that other at-risk populations also be screened for the virus.
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Although HCV has unmet medical needs, the Affordable Care Act as well as recent breakthroughs in HCV treatments make this junction more hopeful than ever. Testing covered under the ACA reduces financial strains and provides more affordable treatment options for diagnosed patients. The newer treatments are more effective and tolerable to sustain over a shorter duration. Interferon-free (IFN-free) regimens also allow for recovery with fewer side effects.
The benefits of treating patients who are in the early stages of the disease are endless. Living with hepatitis C has tremendous emotional, financial and physical costs. By urging those who are at risk to get tested, the proportion of diagnosed patients and those on the road to recovery increases and statistically helps medical providers and public health groups better serve people. HCV costs $30 billion in annual medical costs, and that is expected to triple by 2030 unless a drastic change is seen.
Fortunately, the SLO Hep C Project is dedicated to meeting the needs of people living with hepatitis C and increasing public awareness through educational outreach in San Luis Obispo County. Conveniently located near downtown SLO, we are equipped to help educate patients about their genotype and disease progression as well as evaluate them for treatment readiness.
The SLO Hep C Project provides services such as:
Hep C support groups
Public/private benefits counseling
Mental health counseling referrals
Affordable Care Act enrollment counseling
Food pantry For more information, visit SLO Hep C Project at 1320 Nipomo Street, go online at http://www.slohepc.org or simply give us a call at 543-HEPC (4372).
Lili Gevorkian is a public health intern at the SLO Hep C Project.