GOSHEN – In observance of May’s Hepatitis Awareness Month, health officials are calling for all U.S. baby boomers – the generation born from 1945 through 1965 – to get a one-time test for the hepatitis C virus. Viral hepatitis is a leading infectious cause of death in the U.S. The Orange County Department of Health along with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will observe National Hepatitis Awareness Month this May. In addition, National Hepatitis Testing Day is observed each year on May 19.
"This is a good opportunity to create awareness in our communities about a serious health concern," said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the HCV by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Tattooing in unlicensed and unsanitary settings is also a potential source of infection.
"It has become a serious public health problem," said Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Eli Avila. An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic HCV. Some scientists believe the actual number of people infected with HCV in the United States to be closer to 7 million. Unfortunately, approximately 12,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C-related liver disease.
Orange County Department of Health wants to emphasize that May 19, 2014 is the National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day. Orange County residents should visit their healthcare providers or the Orange County Department of Health’s STD clinics to be tested. Furthermore, it is a new law for physicians to offer the screening and testing to "baby-boomers" during their annual physical or office visit.
"In New York, I had the privilege of working with the New York State Legislature to help pass the first law in the nation, which mandates healthcare facilities to offer a simple rapid screening test to this age group," said Dr. Avila.
It is very important to screen and test for this kind of hepatitis because many who are infected with the HCV do not know that they have it until it is too late. However, unlike other viral diseases, there are actual cures for people with HCV if identified early during the disease. Presently, the cure rate is about 84% with current therapy. Dr. Avila encourages HCV screening for the following:
All people born between 1945 and 1965
People who currently inject drugs, injected drugs in the past, even if it was just once or occurred many years ago
Those who have or had a sexually transmitted disease
People who have/had multiple sexual partners
HIV infected individuals and people with abnormal liver tests or liver disease
Anyone who received donated blood or organs before 1992
Individuals who have been exposed to blood on the job through a needle stick or injury with a sharp object
Those on hemodialysis (a process that uses a man-made membrane (dialyzer) to: remove wastes, such as urea, from the blood; restore the proper balance of electrolytes in the blood; eliminate extra fluid from the body.
Everyone that had tattoos or body piercings done in informal settings or with possibly non-sterile instruments
"It is beneficial to be proactive with your health. See your healthcare provider and get screened today," said County Executive Neuhaus.
For more information about Hepatitis C testing, contact Orange County Department at 845-291-2330. For more information about Hepatitis C, please visit: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/.