Hepatitis C – a life-threatening but treatable liver disease – is on the rise in Tennessee.
The rate of acute hepatitis C cases in Tennessee has more than tripled in the last seven years. According to Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner, the steadily increasing number of cases may only represent “the tip of the iceberg” of the state’s hepatitis C epidemic. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Tennesseans may be living with chronic hepatitis C and not know it.
Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing hepatitis C problem in Tennessee and how the state is responding to the situation.
What is it?
Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. Over time, chronic hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, liver failure and liver cancer.
Because most people with the disease do not know they are infected, hepatitis C is considered a silent epidemic. Many people can live for decades without any symptoms.
How it’s spread
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. The increase in hepatitis C transmissions in Tennessee is largely due to the sharing of contaminated needles among intravenous drug users. However, the United States is also seeing an increase in hepatitis C diagnoses in baby boomers, who are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of hepatitis C were the highest.
The state’s response
During the summer of 2015, the Tennessee Department of Health issued a public health advisory urging Tennessee residents to learn more about this life-threatening disease and to consider being tested for hepatitis C infection.
Who should be tested
- Anyone who has injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- People with certain medical conditions, such as chronic liver disease and HIV or AIDS
- Anyone who received donated blood or organs before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began
- Anyone who received a blood product used to treat clotting problems before 1987
- Baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1965)
- Individuals with abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Health and safety workers who may have been exposed to blood on the job
- People on hemodialysis
- Individuals born to a mother with hepatitis C
How to get tested
If you suspect you may have hepatitis C, or if you have any of the risk factors listed above, see your doctor. He or she will perform a simple blood test to see if you’ve ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus.