- Have you received a blood transfusion prior to
- Have you ever used intravenous drugs or
- Do you have a tattoo or have you had body
- Have you ever shared a razor, toothbrush, or
nail file with anyone?
- Have you ever had unprotected sex with multiple
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you
may be at risk for hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus
that infects the liver and can cause serious,
long-term chronic liver disease and death.
According to Ann Jesse, The Hep C Connection,
Denver, Colorado, an estimated 20,000 to 40,000
Coloradans are already infected with hepatitis C.
"Thousands more may have the disease and be
unaware of it because 75 percent of people infected
with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms," said
Jesse, who was without symptoms when she was
diagnosed during a routine medical checkup in 1994.
As is the case with more than 300,000 other
Americans, Jesse suspects her infection was from a
blood transfusion that she received prior to 1990.
Since 1990, a blood test that detects antibodies to
the hepatitis C virus has reduced the risk of being
infected with hepatitis C via blood transfusion to
less than 1 percent.
"Hepatitis C is a very complex disease and
can impact individual patients differently,"
explained Dr. Gregory Everson, University of
Colorado Health Sciences Center. "About 15
percent of patients will clear the virus from their
systems and remain disease free. The remaining 85
percent go on to develop long-term or chronic
infection with hepatitis C, which can lead to
serious liver disease, cirrhosis (scarring of the
liver), liver cancer, and death."
Hepatitis C was identified in 1989. ln the United
States, it is estimated that only 350,000 of the 4
million people infected with hepatitis C have been
diagnosed and reported to the U.S. Center for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Long delays -- sometimes decades -- in the
appearance of symptoms and diagnosis of the disease
has resulted in hepatitis C becoming the leading
cause of liver transplantation in the United States;
it is also the cause of 8,000 deaths in this country
each year. This number is expected to triple in the
next 10 to 20 years, surpassing the estimated number
of deaths due to AIDS.
Because the disease can silently destroy the
liver for many years before symptoms occur, Everson
has recommended a blood test for anyone who suspects
they may have been exposed to hepatitis C.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent
hepatitis C, and more research is needed to develop
one. All people with the disease should seek medical
care, which may include alpha intefferon treatments
for eligible patients with chronic hepatitis C. In
addition, changes in diet and lifestyle - especially
the avoidance of alcohol - can significantly reduce
the possibility and severity of liver damage for
those who are already infected.
To lessen the possibility of infection, it is
advisable to use condoms and avoid all contact with
other people's blood. Avoid sharing razors,
toothbrushes, and nail files with anyone, and make
certain that the supplies and equipment used for
body piercing and tattooing have been properly
Occupations at risk for exposure to blood
infected with hepatitis C include healthcare
workers, emergency service workers, fire fighters,
police officers, paramedics, clinical lab workers,
science lab workers, tattooists, beauticians,
manicurists, and barbers.
The Hep C Connection provides individuals with
hepatitis C and their families with up-to-date
medical information, sessions focusing on daily
living issues, support groups for open sharing of
personal experiences, and a monthly newsletter. The
organization also collaborates with major hospitals,
universities, pharmaceutical companies, government
lobbyists, and public health departments to promote
research, legislation, public education, and better
diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
For more information, contact The Hep C
Connection at 303-393-9395 or 1-800-522-HEPC, or the
Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Liver
Foundation at 1-888-OKLIVER.
Informative Worldwide Briefs ... Sandra W. Key,
News Editor, with Daniel J. DeNoon & Salynn