It’s been called a silent epidemic, a woefully underdiagnosed disease with a whopping 40 percent mortality rate that only seems to be increasing with time.
Hepatitis C infections can cause chronic liver disease, liver cancer, a swollen abdomen, gastrointestinal bleeding, skin yellowing and fatigue. Yet many of the 4 million patients infected with Hepatitis C do not learn of their diagnosis for decades until they begin showing end-stage symptoms that are typically irreversible and difficult to manage and treat.
Why is this deadly disease not being diagnosed much earlier in its progression? The fact is that most people don’t get tested because they don’t realize they’re at risk. That means education and awareness are the most important weapons we have to stop Hepatitis C from inflicting this pain and suffering.
I sat down with Dr. Mohammad Alsolaiman, a gastroenterologist at Central Utah Clinic, to learn the key things we need to know to protect ourselves and our loved ones:
Older folks are at the highest risk
Alarmingly, it’s the baby boomer generation that comprises the vast majority of undiagnosed Hepatitis C patients — and yet they’re likely to not realize the need to be tested. Dr. Alsolaiman’s patients are always surprised to learn that many Hepatitis C infections occurred decades ago.
Undiagnosed Hepatitis C also comes at a very high price tag for society
Individuals who develop cirrhosis and end-stage liver cancer from Hepatitis C infection typically require a liver transplant, adding to an already overburdened list of patients waiting for a donor. And the cost of medical care for patients living with Hepatitis C is expected to nearly triple in just two decades, to $85 billion by 2027 if no intervention is undertaken.
There are many routes to infection
The leading risk factors for Hepatitis C are unprotected sex, drug use (including intra-nasal), blood transfusions prior to 1992, incarceration, tattoos, occupational exposure, and surgeries performed prior to the implementation of universal precautions. Patients who undergo hemodialysis or were born to an infected mother also are at risk.
Hepatitis C is fully curable in most of the patients
Unlike HIV infections, a Hepatitis C infection can be cured in most of the patients. In fact, even oral medication is an option, and newly available medications have made it possible to be free of the virus in 8-12 weeks. The success rate is more than 90 percent.
Hepatitis C drugs are far more advanced now
We’ve come a long way since the first Hepatitis C drug, Interferon, was introduced with a paltry 10 to 20 percent success rate with a very bad reputation for intolerable side effects. This has been replaced today with more powerful oral and effective drugs.
There’s no reason for people to suffer and die from a disease that is highly treatable when caught early. To find out more about Dr. Alsolaiman or to schedule an appointment to find out more, connect with Central Utah Clinic for information on services, locations, events and more.
This article was originally published in The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.