In addition to those at high risk for the virus, new screening guidelines call for all adults, 18 and older, to have the blood test at least once in their lifetime. Also, pregnant women during each pregnancy.
Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the body and causes liver damage. If left untreated, it can eventually lead to liver failure, liver cancer and death.
“Hepatitis C has been the most common liver disease that we have historically seen in our clinic,” said Dr. James Trotter, medical director of Transplant Hepatology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “It has been until recently the most common cause for liver transplant, meaning that it was the most lethal disorder that we have historically had in our clinic.”
Today, hepatitis can be cured. That’s one major reason the CDC wants to expand screening for the virus.
Trotter talked about this with KERA’s Sam Baker.
About Hepatitis C
It's a blood-borne pathogen. The ways to acquire it historically have been through blood transfusions, IV drug use or similar exposures through transplant, dialysis and through contaminated sources that could infect the blood. With testing that was developed in the late 80s and early 90s, the blood supply has been largely freed from hepatitis C.
I could have hepatitis C and be unaware of it. Early on, the symptoms are often absent while damage could occur within the liver. Without specific testing, a patient wouldn't have any way to know whether they have it. It's only discovered through blood testing or by checking liver function tests.
Can Hepatitis C Transmit Between Mother And Unborn Child?
Correct. It's uncommon – the risk is around 5%. But obviously since pregnancy is such a common condition, and women are under medical care during that time for the most part, that was viewed as an effective way for screening.
Why The Call Now For Greater Screening?
I think there are several issues in play:
- New therapies are available that are virtually 100% curative. To screen for a disorder, you have to have an effective therapy for it. In the early days, there was debate about whether even to treat the disorder because the therapies were so ineffective.
- The older recommendations were not particularly effective in that they were based on risk that patients had to acknowledge or remember, such as drug exposure or something similar.
- And then they were based on cohorts for dates of birth. These are helpful, but I think the broad screen for every adult makes it, more direct that the patients can be screened.
There’s Also A Higher Infection Rate Among Young Adults
Historically, hepatitis C has been a disease of the baby boomers. But likely with the recent epidemic of opioid overdose – heroin in particular – there've been an upswing in patients with acute exposure to hepatitis C and even patients presenting with acute hepatitis C.
Coronavirus And Hepatitis C
One of the concerns the medical community has is that people are afraid to come into a clinic, or they're distracted by all the major concerns related to COVID-19. That's an underlying concern that’s, I think, happening in all specialties in medicine.