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World Hepatitis Day - July 28th

Get tested! Take care of your liver!

What does the liver do? As one of the most important organs in the body, you cannot survive without your liver because it performs vital bodily functions. It fights off infection, helps digest food, stores energy and nutrients, and removes harmful chemicals from the blood.

When the liver becomes infected, that leads to an inflammation called hepatitis. Today we are focusing on the most under diagnosed type of hepatitis – hepatitis C (HCV). With hepatitis C there may be mild flu-like symptoms lasting for a short time, but most people do not know that they have been infected. That is why it is often called the “silent epidemic” and is the leading cause of liver disease. If the person is not diagnosed with HCV, the symptoms may remain mild, or even non-existent, for decades while the liver damage continues. This is called chronic hepatitis C and could last a lifetime. HCV is the most serious of the hepatitis viruses and spreads through blood-to-blood contact.

Those most at risk for HCV are people sharing needles or using unsterile tattoo equipment, those breastfeeding, blood transfusion recipients, healthcare workers, and veterans (especially from the Viet Nam War). The Baby Boomers (people born from 1945 – 1965) should all be tested because they are 5 times more likely to have the virus than other adults. It is not about how you lived, but when you lived.

If this virus remains undetected, it causes serious health issues including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer and even death. Many people do not get tested because they don’t want to be associated with HCV. There has been an unwarranted stigma that goes along with the disease. But we all need to do away with the "wild child" persona that has too long been associated with this disease because it could be your mother, brother, best friend, or the person sitting next to you at work. Another reason we need to get involved is because the cost of caring for these individuals in end-stage liver disease is sky high and affects us all.

Some years ago the treatment for HCV was long and difficult with many side effects. Since 2014, a new treatment has become available that does not require needles, involves fewer pills and takes much less time. A patient is completely cured of the virus within 8-12 weeks! There aren’t many chronic diseases that we are able to CURE, but hepatitis C does not have to be a life-long sentence. Let’s get the word out!

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