Get Hip to Hepatitis:
How to protect yourself from the ‘Hidden Epidemic’
By Amy S. Fox, MD, MS
& Jonathan M. Schwartz, MD
NEW YORK- July 28 was World Hepatitis Day. On that day, patients, healthcare workers and advocates in 86 countries held events to raise global awareness of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C — and of ways to prevent, diagnose and treat these hepatitis viruses.
Viral hepatitis affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide and many thousands of individuals and families right here in the Bronx.
What Is Viral Hepatitis?
Viral hepatitis is a liver infection caused by various viruses that can lead to severe liver disease and liver cancer. The two main hepatitis viruses are Hepatitis B (“Hep B”) and Hepatitis C (“Hep C”). Hepatitis C is one of the main causes that may lead to a person needing a liver transplant.
Currently, approximately 250,000 New Yorkers are living with Hepatitis B or C infection. An estimated 100,000 are infected with Hep B and another 146,500 have been diagnosed with Hep C. You, or someone you know, may be affected.
But there is good news: Hepatitis C can be treated and cured. Hepatitis B can be prevented with vaccination and treated to limit the disease from getting worse.
The Hidden Epidemic
African Americans have higher rates of chronic Hepatitis C and Hepatitis C-related deaths compared to other ethnic groups in the United States. Within the African-American community, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, often related to Hepatitis C, were among the leading causes of death in those 45-64 years of age.
Often, members of the African-American and LGBTQ communities are unaware that they have the infection. Hepatitis among Asian Americans is also under-recognized and under-reported.
Vulnerable New Yorkers face many barriers to getting diagnosed and treated for hepatitis. These include social stigma, limited finances, housing instability or homelessness, and lack of a social or emotional support network of family and friends.
How Do You Know If You Have Hepatitis C?
Both the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State of New York recommend Hepatitis C Testing for all people born between 1945 and 1965 as well as those with risk factors for hepatitis viruses.
You can have the Hepatitis C virus even if you don’t have symptoms. You can give the virus to others through your blood or other body fluids. If you think you’ve been exposed, cover wounds and avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, diabetes supplies, needles for injecting drugs, or tools for body piercings or tattoos. You can’t get Hep C from coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing eating utensils. Most importantly, get yourself tested.
Why Should You Get Tested?
A simple blood test can tell if you’ve ever had the hepatitis virus. Getting tested and treated early can stop the Hep C virus from causing severe liver disease or cancer.
If you were born between 1945 and 1965, or if you suspect that you or someone you know may be infected, don’t waste time. Go and get tested. This simple step could save your life, or the life of someone you love.
The Virology Laboratories at Montefiore offer “reflex testing” for Hepatitis C. Using a special algorithm, this test ensures speedy delivery of an accurate diagnosis. It can make a crucial difference in getting the patient started on a potentially life-saving course of treatment.
Our Virology labs work closely with Montefiore doctors who are experts in Liver Disease, Infectious Diseases and General Internal Medicine, and are part of the Montefiore Hepatitis C Treatment Network.
This ensures that individuals who are tested receive a quick and accurate diagnosis, and that those who test positive for the virus receive the care and treatment they need.
Where to Get Help
For more information about getting tested for Hepatitis C, call the Montefiore Hepatitis C Testing Network at 1-844-CURE-HCV.
Education, outreach and advocacy efforts are underway in the New York metro area to advance Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C awareness, screening and access to care.
HEP FREE NYC www.HepFree.NYC is an advocacy network dedicated to strengthening the healthcare community’s capacity to prevent, manage and treat Hepatitis B and C in New York City. It includes the HEP B Coalition https://hepfree.nyc/nyc-hep-b-coalition/ and the NYC HEP C Task Force https://hepfree.nyc/nyc-hep-c-task-force/
Did you know?
Most people worldwide living with viral hepatitis remain undiagnosed.
Baby boomers — an age cohort that until recently had alarmingly high rates of Hepatitis C, now enjoy a high cure rate due to treatment with the drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni.
Young people ages 15-34 affected by the opioid epidemic are currently the most vulnerable group for developing Hep C.
Amy S. Fox, MD, MS is Director, Virology Laboratories, Montefiore Health System
Professor of Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Jonathan M. Schwartz, MD is a Professor of Clinical Medicine Montefiore Health System / Albert Einstein College of Medicine