The Arkansas Health Department is urging Arkansans born between 1945 and 1965 to be tested for Hepatitis C. An estimated 38,000 adult Arkansans may be living with the blood borne virus that harms the liver and contributed to at least 1,538 deaths in Arkansas between 1999 and 2012.
To put this number into perspective, “Hep C” has contributed to more deaths than HIV in Arkansas each year since 2006. To reduce the number of Arkansans who may be faced with irreversible liver damage or early death, the Arkansas Department of Health recommends all adults discuss Hep C testing with their doctor.
It is recommended that all people born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for Hep C. Injection drug users, people who received a blood transfusion before 1992, and several other at-risk groups should also be tested. Those who fall into these groups should talk with their doctor about getting tested for Hep C, even if they do not feel ill. The majority of people with Hep C often do not know they are infected. Testing can help identify infected people before irreversible liver damage occurs. Hep C is known as the “silent killer” because many people have the infection for decades and experience no symptoms. However, Hep C typically develops into a chronic infection and eventually destroys the cells of the liver. It is a major cause of cancer and cirrhosis and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.
“Hep C is a very serious illness and early detection and treatment are the only way to avoid permanent liver damage and possible death,” said Dr. Gary Wheeler, Medical Director for Infectious Disease at the Arkansas Department of Health.
Before 2013, Hep C was treated with drugs that caused side effects such as flu-like symptoms and depression, and required injections of interferon for nearly one year or longer. Now, treatments for Hep C are more effective, easier to tolerate and shorter in duration. If you are currently living with Hep C, ask your doctor about new treatment options. Your doctor will be able to decide when treatment should begin.
“Some of the new medication combinations have been shown to cure more than 90 percent of patients who undergo treatment, which may be life-changing for Arkansans who have been living with untreated Hep C. Now is the time to get tested, get treated and avoid years of suffering due to chronic Hep C infection,” Wheeler added.