UTSW Researcher Calls Testing & Greater Awareness Key To Fighting Increases In Hepatitis
The most recent CDC data showed a more than 1,300% increase in hepatitis A virus infections between 2015 and 2019, and a 63% increase for hepatitis C.
Dr. Mamta Jain leads several Hep-C studies at Parkland Hospital. She talked with KERA’s Sam Baker about the increases.
What Caused The Increases:
This is because of an increase in the opioid epidemic. We are seeing a rise in injection drug use, and that has been leading to an increase in hepatitis C.
At Parkland, we're noticing a lot of young people getting hepatitis C. We’re also testing all pregnant women for hepatitis C because that's another big area in which they're seeing an increase in cases — cases more related to injection drug use.
Also, an increase in hepatitis A. We are seeing it in Dallas County in our homeless population and in our injection drug use population.
Vaccination for Hepatitis A, Treatment for C
We are telling our emergency use doctors to vaccinate. If they see patients coming in that are homeless or with injection drug use, just vaccinate them. And we can prevent hepatitis A.
Unfortunately, we don't have a vaccine for hepatitis C, but it is an infection that we can cure — an almost 90% cure rate. One pill once a day for either eight or 12 weeks. So it is important to be tested and know that you have the infection and get treatment.
You Can Have Hepatitis Without Knowing It
That is the problem. It is thought that maybe half the people that have hepatitis C don't even know that they have it. That's why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force last year came out with the recommendation that every person over the age of 18 should at least one time have a hepatitis C test done.
Knowing that you have hepatitis C is very important because you have a virus that can cause chronic liver disease and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. And that can lead to decreasing your life expectancy by 20 years.
Need For Greater Awareness
I don't think people realize Texas has one of the highest rates of liver cancer in the country. And hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of liver cancer. And so we can combat that if we can just test people for hepatitis C and treat them, we're trying really hard to get the information out.
At Parkland, we started a program of reminding all primary care providers that every time they have a Baby Boomer patient who has never been tested for hepatitis C to test them.
Part of the problem is that providers don't always think that their patients are at risk, and so they don't think about getting hep C testing. This is a virus we could eliminate globally if we can identify the people who have it and treat them.
Ways To Avoid Spread Of Viral Hepatitis
- Because this is a blood-borne infection, if you have a cut or anything like that, cover it.
- Don't share things that might lead to bleeding, like your toothbrush or razor.
- If you're someone who is injecting drugs and you have hepatitis C, don't share your equipment or needles.
- The most important thing is to be aware this is in our community. For hepatitis A, get vaccinated. For hepatitis C, get tested.
Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.
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