Monday, January 9, 2012

Healthy Habits: Hepatitis C

I had the opportunity to find out some information about Hepatitis C from Dr. Douglas Dieterich, Professor of Medicine Division of Liver Diseases at Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC, and former Hepatitis C patient who has dedicated his career to researching new ways to treat the virus.

Hepatitis C is one of the most curable viruses if proper steps are taken. Unfortunately, it is also referred to as the “silent killer.” Did you know?
- Not all patients are IV drug or intranasal cocaine users. Other ways to contract the virus include: body piercings, tattoos, manicures, pedicures, or even while playing sports such as boxing, and rugby.
- The virus can creep along very silently, presenting no symptoms or abnormal liver test results for 30-40 years.
- Hepatitis C is spread by blood-to-blood contact.
- If left undetected, the virus can lead to advanced scarring of the liver, or a condition known as cirrhosis, and eventually cause liver failure or other major complications including liver cancer.
- About 4 times as many people will die in 2020 from Hepatitis C as in 2010.

1) What exactly is hepatitis C, and how is it related (or not) to hepatitis A or B?
a. Hepatitis C is an inflamed liver resulting from the Hepatitis C virus.
b. There is no relation at all to Hepatitis A or B; they are completely different viral families. The only similarity is that they all infect the liver.

2) How likely is it that someone could get hepatitis C and not realize it? How is it transmitted?
a. It is very likely that someone could get the virus and not know it, as the majority of cases don’t have any symptoms. In fact, we estimate that two million people in the US have the virus and don’t know it.
b. Hepatitis C can be transmitted through every day activities including manicures and pedicures, body/ear piercings, tattoos, and sharing a razor or toothbrush. If you had a blood transfusion before 1992, including at birth, if you were born in the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia, Pakistan, or India, or in the developing world, you may be at heightened risk as well. In heterosexuals, Hepatitis C is not a sexually transmitted disease. However, if you have a sexually transmitted disease with open sores, that may increase your risk of contracting Hepatitis C.

3) How easy it is to get tested?
a. It’s very easy to get tested for Hepatitis C. It’s a simple blood test, with results back in a day or two.

4) What happens if someone tests positive? If someone tests negative, should they be tested again later?
a. If they test positive they should begin treatment right away. Newly FDA-approved treatments have brought the cure rate to 80 percent.
b. If someone tests negative but believe they have been exposed, such as a health care worker with a needle stick, they should be tested again in 3-6 months. If you test negative and have none of the risk factors, then there’s no need to be tested again.

Dr. Dieterich is currently Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hepatology and also Director of Continuing Medical Education in the Department of Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY. He has a triple appointment in the divisions of Liver Disease, Gastroenterology, and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Dieterich is a member of many professional societies and is a fellow of both the American College of Physicians and the American College of Gastroenterology. He has served on several committees of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including the Steering Committee of the Opportunistic Infections Core Committee and the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Committee. He was Chair and Co-Chair, respectively, of the Enteric Parasites Committee and the Protozoan Committee. He also served on the NIH Study Sections for CMV and cryptosporidiosis.

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