This blog post is part of the Google+ Healthy Hangouts series on breaking and timely health news.
It may be the middle of flu season, but there is another infection that millions of Americans are at risk for (or may already have) that can have serious consequences.
Cherese Wiley, MD, internal medicine physician on the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas medical staff, and James Trotter, MD, a liver specialist on the Baylor Dallas medical staff, discuss hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C, a liver disease that can lead to cancer or liver failure, is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States.
In Like a Lamb
If you have the flu, you know you have the flu. However, one of the most dangerous aspects of hepatitis C is that typically there are no symptoms associated with it when someone first contracts it. It’s a chronic disease that slowly progresses over decades and can result in severe liver disease before it is ever diagnosed.
Dr. Trotter likens it to a termite infestation, since by the time someone notices termites, usually their house has already been severely damaged.
Sources and Risks
While anyone can contract hepatitis C from a variety of sources, those with high-risk lifestyles or behaviors are most susceptible.
Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through:
- IV drug use
- Blood transfusions (especially transfusions performed prior to the mid 1990s)
- Shared personal items (for example, razors)
- Medical procedures (mostly applies to third world countries)
Additionally, Dr. Wiley points out that new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested at least once.
It’s a simple blood test that is highly accurate.
If the test indicates hepatitis C, patients are referred to a liver specialist for follow-up care and confirmation of the result.
News to Celebrate
In what Dr. Trotter calls the most significant advancement in the treatment of liver disease in his career, in December of 2013, the FDA approved new therapies for hepatitis C.
- Effectively cure 90 percent or more of patients.
- Can be completed in as little as 12 weeks.
- Have few side effects, unlike previous therapies.
In addition, there are even more effective treatments coming on the horizon, which is why all Baby Boomers are now encouraged to be screened.
I encourage you to watch our entire Hangout to learn more about this common disease and what to do about it.