Hepatitis C should not be a surprise

| October 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Tripler Army Medical Center Army Public Health Nurses Naomi Kirkwood (left) and Maj. Veronica McMorris (center) educate community members of Army health and wellness initiatives during a retiree appreciation event on September 9, 2017, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (Photo by Carolyn Floyd-Johnson, Tripler Army Medical Center)

Naomi Kirkwood
Tripler Army Medical Center

HONOLULU — If you are a “baby boomer,” your health care provider wants you!

He or she wants you to be tested for Hepatitis C, that is.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, more than 4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis, and 75 percent of people with Hepatitis C were born from 1945-1965. This is why health care professionals at Tripler Army Medical Center, also known as TAMC, and at U.S. Army Health Clinic-Schofield Barracks, or USAHC-SB, stress the importance of testing for Hepatitis C.

What is it?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). Most people do not have any symptoms until liver problems develop 20-30 years after exposure.

The CDC tells us, the higher risk for “baby boomers” could be because we did not know about Hepatitis C until the late 1980s. Anyone who received a blood transfusion before 1992 may have been exposed to this potentially fatal liver disease because blood supplies were not yet screened until that time.

“Most people in the military have been vaccinated against the more familiar Hepatitis A and B viruses,” explained Maj. Veronica McMorris, chief of Army Public Health Nursing at TAMC. “And although researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are working steadily to develop a vaccine, there is still not an immunization for Hepatitis C.

“The only real way to know if you have Hepatitis C is to get tested,” added McMorris.

Get tested

In 2015, an American Cancer Society study found only 14 percent of baby boomers had been tested for Hepatitis C. This timing was two years after the federal government first expressed concern and recommended more testing among this age group.

TAMC Army Public Health nurses and health care professionals are also hoping to educate more patients about Hepatitis C.

“Hepatitis C is treatable,” said Dr. Christine Lang, chief of Preventive Medicine at TAMC. “But it’s best to catch it in the early stages if possible.”

Schofield awareness

At the Schofield Barracks retiree appreciation event this month, Army public health nurses found many retirees were not aware of Hepatitis C and the need for testing. While TAMC and Schofield Barracks providers are aware of the need to test “baby boomers,” not all patients use military physicians, so may need to discuss with their providers.

In studies of military veterans, NIH researchers found the prevalence of the HPV infection was much higher among veterans in the Veterans Affairs system than the general population. In fact, veterans have more than three times the general population prevalence. Due to these statistics, it is highly recommended for Vietnam-era veterans and older veterans to get tested.

Assessing risk

Other risk factors include intravenous drug use, more commonly referred to as IV drug use; birth to a mother infected with Hepatitis C; working in a health care setting with exposure to blood through a needle stick injury; exposure to blood during sexual activity; or having a tattoo or a body-piercing in a non-regulated setting.

In addition, it is possible to pass HCV through sharing razors and toothbrushes. Even a tiny amount of blood, such as the amount from bleeding gums or a tiny shaving scrape can contain the Hep. C virus, which can live on a surface for days, perhaps even a few weeks, and enter your body while using a contaminated toothbrush or razor.

Sexual transmission is thought to be fairly rare, but if you were born after 1965, or are younger than a baby boomer, and think you might have a risk factor, you should speak with your health care provider about getting tested. The infection can live unnoticed in the body for years.

Symptoms

The CDC reports up to 80 percent of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms at all. But some may have symptoms soon after being infected which include these:

  • Fever,
  • Fatigue,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Nausea,
  • Vomiting,
  • Abdominal pain,
  • Dark urine,
  • Clay-colored bowel movements,
  • Joint pain, and
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes).

However, the only way to really know if you have Hepatitis C is to get tested.

More Online

For more information on Hepatitis C, go to www.CDC.gov/knowmorehepatitis.

 

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