Michael Harney

Know Your Hepatitis C Status

Michael Harney

What the Rubberman Wrote – January 2020

by Michael Harney –

It is as if I can hear Barbara Walters saying, “This is 20/20”; but to imagine actually making it not to the television show, instead to this brand-new decade!

Wow, it truly is newsworthy. What could possibly be on the public agenda?

If you are at all concerned about health, perhaps this is the year to take further action steps by assuring a good start in the New Year and knowing your hepatitis C (HCV) status. This is different from knowing your HIV status—something the Rubberman most often addresses. Rather, hepatitis C is estimated to be at least three times as prevalent in our country as HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), there are thought to be 3.5 million people living with HCV in the US, many of whom don’t even know it. It is a quiet, long-term, progressive disease of the liver. The World Health Organization has a goal of eliminating it by 2030.

Now that hepatitis C has become more and more prevalent in our society, North Carolina’s 85 county health departments also make available free testing for HCV and the virus that causes it. The virus is easily spread through contact with blood when needles are shared, or by sharing other drug using equipment—and less often via sexual activity. On the other hand, it’s important to note that because of intensive screening, HIV and HCV are almost never transmitted anymore by blood transfusions.

There is great news about hepatitis C, no matter the genotype: it is now easily cured, within 8-12 weeks, for most people who don’t have severe cirrhosis, using much more human-friendly therapies with few reported side effects. This is a big difference from what was experienced years ago before pharmaceutical science advanced to this level.

We even have local clinics in Asheville and the western NC region where successful clearance and cure of Hep C happen each month. And wouldn’t it be grand if all detention centers, jails, and prisons, where HCV prevalence is even higher than in the general population, would fully embrace the opportunity they have to cure those with HCV in their custody?!

A myth exists that Hep C is too expensive to be treated and cured. The truth is there are patient assistance programs to help defray the high cost of treatment, at least partially and perhaps completely. The WNC AIDS Project (wncap.org ) has a client eligibility navigator to help sort out financial issues and needs even if you or your loved one may be uninsured!

Getting tested for HCV is as near as a phone call to the United Way’s 211 helpline (dial 211) to get contact information for a local health department; alternatively, you can reach out to your medical provider to make an appointment. Getting tested is particularly important if you were born between 1945 and 1965—the age range within which HCV is most prevalent—or if you ever once shared a needle/syringe behind someone; received tattoos in prison; have taken blood products or had an organ transplant or transfusion years ago; or are currently using needles/syringes for non-medical recreational purposes, where exposure within your social group from blood or sex may be a risk factor.

Take that step. It is easy. And while you’re at it, consider getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, if you have not already done so.

To your health, a new year, and a new decade!

For more information, please call (828) 252-7489 ext. 311, or visit www.wncap.org.

 

 


Michael Harney is a prevention educator with WNCAP and helps operate NEPA@WNCAP, one of the local needle exchange programs in the region.

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