Hepatitis C (HCV) has been making headlines. Reports from various media outlets, including Specialty Pharmacy Times, Newsweek, and CNN, have all referenced the latest CDC surveillance report that links increased rates of HCV with widespread intravenous drug use, especially among younger white people in rural parts of the country. In their report, the CDC documents a steady progression of reported cases of HCV between the years 2010-2015 and estimates that there are now roughly 3.5 million Americans currently living with the disease. Part of what makes these findings particularly compelling is that recent advances in HCV protease inhibitor therapies have transformed HCV into a highly treatable, and in most cases curable, disease, yet incidence of the disease are still on the rise. The underlying problem stems from the fact that HCV can remain asymptomatic for long periods of time, causing the disease to go undiagnosed, untreated, and unknowingly transmitted by those who have contracted it.
HCV, the most common and dangerous of the hepatitis viruses, targets the liver, potentially causing life-threatening conditions such as liver cancer and cirrhosis. Transmitted by blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, HCV disproportionately affects those who share needles or other equipment used to inject drugs; however, many members of the Baby Boomer Generation, those born between 1945 and 1965, were also exposed to the virus through contaminated medical equipment and blood products. According to the CDC, this particular population of Americans is considered five times more likely to have HCV than other adults due to their extent of exposure.
The most effective way to stop the spread of the HCV virus is to be proactive. Because there is no vaccine that can prevent HCV, individuals should avoid high-risk behaviors and get screened for the disease. The CDC provides testing recommendations that include all adults born between 1945 through 1965, those who currently or have ever injected drugs, those with HIV or other blood-related medical conditions treated before 1987, and those with a recognized exposure to HCV. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force outlines screening processes for the HCV infection. HCV screening involves testing and initial blood sample for the presence of antibodies that react to the HCV virus. The second test determines the level of virus in the blood. Together these tests indicate whether a person has HCV.
The only way to know for sure if you have HCV is to get tested, so it is important to talk with your doctor about these recommendations and your personal health history. Your doctor can order the blood tests used to screen for the disease and, if necessary, help you navigate HCV treatment options.