Hepatitis C (Hep C) is the most common blood borne infection in the United States and around the world. Hep C is a liver disease that occurs after one is infected with the Hep C virus. This happens when the blood of a person who is infected with the disease enters the body of a person who is not infected. In the past, Hep C was transmitted through unsafe blood transfusions and organ transplants, but today, most people become infected with Hep C by sharing needles and equipment used to inject drugs, being cut or stuck with a sharp object that has been exposed to the virus, or being born to a mother with Hep C.
Hep C is often asymptomatic for several years, and symptoms of a Hep C infection range from nausea and vomiting, to abdominal, muscle and joint pain. If left untreated Hep C can cause liver damage, and even cancer. Currently, there is no vaccine that can prevent Hepatitis C. however, there are treatments that can serve as cures for those who develop the disease.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that people born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for Hep C at least once because people from this generation are five times more likely to have the disease (people in this particular age group are at risk because they may have had blood transfusions before 1992 when donated blood was not tested for Hep C).
According to a 2013 report from the National Medical Association, nearly 20% of all new Hep C patients are African American, and the death rate for Hep C is nearly double for African Americans compared to white people in the United States. Black Americans have the highest infection rate of any racial or ethnic group in the country. In addition, women are less likely than men to contract Hep C because they are less likely than men to use IV drugs (which today is the most common way Hep C is transmitted. It is usually estimated that 80-85% of all people infected with Hep C will go on to develop chronic Hepatitis C, but the rate is lower for women who are more likely to completely clear Hep C from their bodies after infection. Here in Louisiana, Hepatitis C affects about 60,000 people with an infection rate of ~500 people each year.
Medical professionals and health advocates believe that one way to combat this disease in the black community is through education. This past July 25th The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc and Coalition on Positive Health Empowerment have teamed up to host the third annual National African American Hepatitis C Action Day. For more information on this important day surrounding African American Health, check out their website and make sure you get tested, especially if you were born between 1945 and 1965!