Hepatitis C: Combating the “Silent Killer”
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. To raise awareness about this disease, our SAGE Harlem program partners with Project HEALS (the Hepatitis C Education and Liver Screening Program) to conduct educational sessions centered on hepatitis C, and offer on-site rapid testing for all LGBT older adults who are interested. The following is a guest blog post by Korin Parrella, Outreach Worker at Project HEALS.
Each year in the United States, 15,000 people die from hepatitis C, a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). You can get hepatitis C from coming into contact with blood that is infected with HCV. In the United States today, the most common way to get hepatitis C is through injection drug use.
There are more than 3 million Americans living with HCV, and most don’t know they have it. Hepatitis C doesn’t have many obvious symptoms, but for some people it can cause serious health problems like liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. When a person is infected with HCV, the virus causes the cells of the liver to start swelling. Over time, all the swelling can lead to scarring. When a person’s liver is very scarred, it cannot filter blood the way the body needs it to. It is at this point that a person may start to feel very sick.
Baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965) account for 75% of all hepatitis C infections in the U.S., and more baby boomers are diagnosed with HCV today than any other age group. In August 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new screening guidelines recommending that every person born from 1945 to 1965 get a one-time test for hepatitis C. This is the first time the CDC has recommended a change in the hepatitis C screening guidelines since 1998.
But you don’t need to be a baby boomer, or have ever injected drugs, to be at risk. People who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 are at risk for hepatitis C. Also, people who got a tattoo or body piercing done outside of a professional setting, like in prison or at a tattoo party, could be at risk for being exposed to hepatitis C. If you worked in a health care setting and received a needle stick injury or you were cut with a sharp object, you could also be at risk. Sharing personal care items like razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers can lead to exposure if you share them with people who might be positive for hepatitis C.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C; the only way to prevent infection is to protect yourself. Avoid sharing personal care items, like razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers. If you engage in activities that could lead to exposure, get tested regularly.
A hepatitis C test isn’t always part of your routine blood work and medical check-up. A lot of times, if you want a test you have to ask your doctor. There are new tests for hepatitis C that can now give you results in 20 minutes.
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. Why wait? Ask and get tested today.
Project HEALS is a hepatitis C-focused outreach program that has served the elder LGBT community, and greater New York City, since 2008. Project HEALS provides hepatitis C-focused education and HCV rapid testing at various community-based organizations with a focus on East and Central Harlem and the South Bronx.
For more information, or to schedule a free test, please contact Korin Parrella at 212-824-7725, Jocelyn Camacho at 212-824-7729 or email HEALS@mountsinai.org. Free and confidential rapid testing is available to all who call and schedule an appointment. Hours are Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM.