LAKE COUNTY, Calif. (May 7, 2019) – Hepatitis C is one of the most frequently reported communicable diseases in California. About 400,000 Californians live with chronic hepatitis C, but many do not know they are infected, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). When left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause liver damage and liver failure. Hepatitis C often has no symptoms for decades, so a blood test can be the only way to know if you are infected. New treatment now can cure Hepatitis C in as little as 2 months.
Today, transmission is mainly through sharing needles, syringes and other drug injection equipment. In fact, rates of infection have been on the rise, due in part to the increase in injection drug use. Cases of hepatitis C among young people aged 15-29 have more than doubled in the last five years. According to the most recent data from CDPH, in Lake County, cases of chronic hepatitis C increased by 91% from 2014 to 2016 (73 cases to 139 cases).
The hospital blood supply is now safely screened for hepatitis C, but the Baby Boomers (born from 1945 to 1965) account for almost half of all the hepatitis C cases reported in California. Many do not know they were infected.
The California Department of Public Health recommends anyone who has ever injected drugs, even once, and all people born between 1945 and 1965, should talk to their medical provider about getting tested. People who test positive should receive care from a provider with training in Hepatitis C treatment. Prevention, including access to clean syringes and safe injection equipment, and treatment for opioid use can reduce the rate of new infections.
Fortunately, new treatments offer a cure for most people. The cure takes just 8 to 12 weeks and can reduce liver cancer risk by 75%, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Lake County Health Officer Dr. Erin Gustafson stated, “It is critical for those at risk of Hepatitis C to be tested and to complete treatment in order to improve their health and reduce risk of serious complications, such as cancer. Most patients can be cured of hepatitis C in 2 to 3 months.”