Health Notes

Triple the Threat: Hepatitis C Infections on the Rise

by Dr. Rudolf Kotula on May 18, 2017

A new report from the CDC shows alarming news about the rates of hepatitis C infection in the U.S. New data released just last week show the numbers have tripled in just five years, reaching a 15-year high.

A dangerous blood-borne virus, Hepatitis C is an infection that attacks the liver. Most people become infected by sharing drug needles. There is no vaccine, and for most, it is a long-term, chronic infection that can cause long-term health problems and even death. There are treatments for hepatitis C, and a diagnosis means close supervision by a health care provider.

Hepatitis C cases reported to the CDC totaled only 850 in 2010, but new numbers show a massive increase to 2,436 reported cases in 2015.

Unfortunately, because hepatitis C has few symptoms, nearly half of people living with the virus don’t know they are infected. They are undiagnosed and their cases go unreported. It’s because of that, the CDC believes the real numbers don’t reflect the true scale of the epidemic. The agency estimates about 34,000 new hepatitis C infections in the U.S. in 2015.

The greatest increases in the numbers were among young people in their 20s, with the new cases being attributed to injection drug use associated with America’s growing opioid epidemic. And while the numbers of new cases among the young are on the rise, the greatest numbers of cases of hepatitis C are actually among baby boomers. Nearly 75 percent of the estimated 3.5 million Americans with the disease are in that age group.

Dr. Rudolf Kotula, Methodist Physicians Clinic infectious disease/travel health
Rudolf Kotula, MD

While people often don’t exhibit symptoms of hepatitis C, and if they do, they may be mild. Symptoms can include:

• Fever
• Fatigue
• Dark urine
• Clay-colored stool
• Abdominal pain
• Loss of appetite
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Joint pain
• Jaundice

Hepatitis C is a dangerous disease, killing more Americans than any other infectious disease reported to the CDC. Of the 20,000 deaths in 2015, most of the deaths were among those over the age of 55. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can cause the disease, especially injecting drugs.

If you have questions about hepatitis C, including considering treatment, talk to your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider.

Dr. Rudolf Kotula is an infectious disease and travel medicine specialist now
seeing patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency.
Contact Dr. Kotula at MethodistPR@nmhs.org.
Dr. Rudolf Kotula, Methodist Physicians Clinic infectious disease/travel health

 

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