Health News sponsored by VCU Health
The ABCs of Hepatitis
by J. Chevonte’ Alexander
Did you know that more than three million Americans are living with chronic viral hepatitis? But, seek as many as 75 percent do not know they are affected?
Check out this video from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention:
Hepatitis C virus infection is a major public health problem for persons of all races, and it has become the most common cause of death associated with liver disease in the United States. What is hepatitis? The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. The most common types of viral hepatitis are: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Unlike Hepatitis A, which does not cause a long-term infection, B and C can become chronic, lifelong infections. Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver that results from the Hepatitis C virus. Chronic hepatitis can cause serious liver problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer. In fact, more than 60 percent of liver cancer cases are associated with Hepatitis B or C.
The Balm In Gilead, Inc., headquartered in Richmond, Va., has taken a unique approach to increasing awareness about Hepatitis C. The organization works with faith leaders to educate their congregation and, in turn, our communities about the disease.
How is Hepatitis C spread? Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. Now, you may think that you are not affected by Hepatitis C, but you may know someone who is at risk or needs to get checked. Education is vital to raise awareness in addressing the Hepatitis C epidemic.
Were you born between 1945 and 1965? More than 75 percent of adults with Hepatitis C are baby boomers, born from 1945 through 1965. Even more surprising, the rate of Hepatitis C related deaths for African Americans is nearly double the rates of Whites. African Americans have the highest rates of Hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis C now eclipses HIV as the nation’s deadliest blood-borne disease and it is five times more infectious.” says Dr. Pernessa Seele, The Balm In Gilead’s Founder and CEO.
Learn the Facts
The first step to reducing this disparity in the African American community is increasing awareness about hepatitis C:
- Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen from sharing equipment for injecting drugs, receiving blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, getting a needlestick injury in healthcare settings, and even being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C. And some people don’t know how they got infected. Hepatitis C can spread through sexual intercourse, but it’s rare.
- Most people living with hepatitis C do not know they are infected.
- People living with HCV infection often have no symptoms until significant damage has been done.
- There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection.
- Getting a blood test is the only way to know if you have been exposed to hepatitis C.
- New and improved treatments exist for hepatitis C.
“Many individuals live with the virus for decades without knowing it.” says Seele. “It will take all of our communities to support a collaborative effort to identify effective programs and interventions to help combat the spread of Hepatitis C.”
The Balm in Gilead is hitting the road to educate and raise awareness about the nation’s deadliest blood-borne disease. Hepatitis C is curable, BUT it takes all of us to spread the word to combat the spread of it. Check out this guide: (http://healthychurches2020.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Faith-Leaders-Info-Guide-on-HEP-C.pdf) that will be distributed nationwide to assist you with educating your congregation and community about Hepatitis C. For more resources, visit: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/index.htm and www.balmingilead.org. Follow the conversation about hepatitis on social media! #hepaware