This post was written by Brittany Cruz, MSN, FNP-BC, APNP. Brittany is a Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner at the Beloit Area Community Health Center.
Protect yourself from this ‘silent’ disease
The most common bloodborne infection in the United States, Hepatitis C, is increasing in numbers in Wisconsin. The Hepatitis C virus is silent in nature and many people never experience any symptoms. Because of this, many people may not even be aware that they are infected.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection that begins as acute illness when a person is newly infected. However, 75-85% of infected people will go on to develop chronic Hepatis C, or lifelong infection of the liver.
Transmission & symptoms
Hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted today through sharing needles or other drug equipment or through sex. Baby Boomers may have been exposed to the virus many years ago through contaminated medical equipment. Less common forms of transmission include mother to infant during labor and after undergoing healthcare procedures.
According to the CDC, an estimated 3.5 million people are infected with Hepatitis C in the United States alone. Over the last ten years, the infection rates in Wisconsin have increased dramatically.
Although 39,516 Wisconsinites are reported to be living with Hepatitis C, that number is believed to be inaccurate and it is estimated that 75,000-90,000 Wisconsinites are infected. This is largely due to people not knowing that they are infected. During the last 10 years, the rate of new infections among people aged 15–29 increased 324% (Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 2019).
Most people who are newly infected will be asymptomatic. When symptoms are present in the acute stage, they may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, clay colored stool, joint pain, dark colored urine and yellowing of the skin or eyes.
In chronic Hepatitis C, symptoms are slow to progress, and it may take years or decades for problems in the liver to develop such as liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer or death to occur.
Testing & treatment
Your medical provider can evaluate your medical history and test you for Hepatitis C through a blood test.
Currently, there isn’t a vaccine that prevents Hepatitis C nor a treatment for acute Hepatitis C. The good news is chronic Hepatitis C can be cured in 90% of infected people through a short course of oral medications.
Hepatitis C in Wisconsin Hepatitis C Virus Surveillance Annual Review, 2018 Trends, Newly Reported Cases, Prevalence, and Care Cascades. Wisconsin Department of Health Services Division of Public Health (2019).