Hepatitis C Disproportionately Affects the African American Community
February is Black History Month, a time to commemorate the contributions that African-Americans have made to American history. This month also presents an opportunity to educate the public and health professionals about serious health problems disproportionately affecting the African American community, including Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus. The virus can make some people very sick, and over time can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer. In fact, Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer. Currently, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, but the good news is that new treatments are available that can cure this disease.
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 by getting a needlestick injury in a healthcare setting, from receiving blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C, and sharing equipment for injecting drugs.
An estimated 3.5 million people are living with Hepatitis C in the United States. Most of those living with Hepatitis C do not know they are infected, as you can live with the disease for decades without symptoms. Unfortunately, African Americans have substantially higher rates of chronic Hepatitis C and Hepatitis C-related deaths compared to other ethnic groups. Within the African American community, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, often Hepatitis C-related, were among the leading causes of death in those 45-64 years of age.
Testing is critical to identify this silent disease. Regardless of race or ethnicity, CDC recommends anyone who was born from 1945 to 1965 get tested for Hepatitis C. A blood test can determine if a person has ever been infected with the virus. There are new treatments available that can cure this disease.
Find out if you should talk to your doctor about getting tested for Hepatitis C, and other types of viral hepatitis, by taking this risk assessment.