Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver and if left untreated, can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), more than 18,000 Iowans have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C since 2000; however, the number of Iowans unaware they have hepatitis C virus (HCV) could be much larger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly half of people living with hepatitis C are undiagnosed.
HCV infection causes inflammation of the liver. When this happens, liver function may be affected. Most people with HCV don’t know it, because they don’t feel ill. Fortunately, HCV is highly treatable and over 90% of those with the virus are cured after just 8 to 12 weeks of taking oral therapy (pills).
Testing and diagnosis of hepatitis C are critical first steps for improved health outcomes, reduced transmission and cure. CDC and IDPH recommend hepatitis C blood testing for people who have ever injected drugs, as well as anyone born between 1945 and 1965 (Baby Boomers).
Injection drug use is the most common way people get hepatitis C. There are several things people who inject drugs can do to prevent acquiring or transmitting hepatitis C, including:
- Use sterile injection equipment every time you inject.
- Avoid reusing or sharing drug injection equipment, including syringes, cookers, cottons, water and ties.
- Use a spare sterile syringe to split drugs.
- Get tested for hepatitis C regularly.
- Seek treatment for substance use disorder.
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. To learn more about HCV and public health recommendations, visit https://www.idph.iowa.gov/