Today's Medicine

Hepatitis C On The Rise

Hepatitis C growing rapidly

I am seeing information about dangerous disease is quickly spreading across America and right here in Nebraska. Hepatitis C – a blood-borne virus that can become a serious long-term health problems – has tripled over the last five years. Thankfully, since there seems to be increased awareness among health care providers resulting in more testing for hepatitis C, we are seeing an increase in patients being referred to our Methodist Physicians Clinic at Regency for treatment. 

By the numbers

Recently, the CDC released data showing the number of new hepatitis C infections reported to CDC nearly tripled between 2010 and 2015, reaching a 15-year high. The CDC estimates there were around 34,000 new hepatitis C infections in the U.S. in 2015. 

In Nebraska, 5,223 new cases of hepatitis C were reported just from 2011-2015. Estimates put the total number of Nebraskans infected with the disease at anywhere from 1.3 to 1.9 percent of the total population. Nearly two-thirds of those people with the disease live here in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster counties.

Spreading quickly

New hepatitis C infections are increasing most rapidly among young people, primarily due to increasing injection drug use associated with America’s opioid epidemic. However, about 75 percent of the 3.5 million Americans already living with hepatitis C are baby boomers. They are six times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than those in other age groups and are at much greater risk to die from the virus.

A potentially deadly infection

In fact, according to the CDC, Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease. Nearly 20,000 Americans died from hepatitis C-related causes in 2015, the majority aged 55 and older. There are very effective medications available to successfully treat and potentially cure this condition, but many people don’t know they are even ill until it is too late. The majority of infected persons might not be aware of their infection because they are not clinically ill. 

Know the symptoms

Here are the symptoms we look for in our clinic when assessing a patient who might be infected:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Preventing hepatitis C

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are ways to prevent getting the disease. It starts by avoiding behaviors that cause it to spread, including injecting drugs, sharing needles or having multiple sex partners. And remember, if detected early, this is one of the few viral infectious diseases with great cure rates.

You should get tested for hepatitis C if:

  • You were born between 1945 and 1965
  • You have ever injected illegal drugs
  • You received blood transfusions or an organ transplant before 1992
  • You live with HIV
  • You are on hemodialysis
  • You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
  • You were born to a mother with hepatitis C

The CDC offers an online Hepatitis Risk Assessment you can take in order to evaluate your risk for contracting the disease.

Of course, if you have any questions about hepatitis C, or how the disease is spread, you can always get more information from our Methodist Physicians Clinic Infectious Disease Clinic.

About the Author

Dr. Rudolf Kotula is a board-certified infectious disease physician. He specializes in areas such as antibiotic resistance, travel medicine and infection prevention.

You can visit Dr. Kotula at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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