Let’s see about C — America’s most common viral infection

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Which infectious disease is the most common viral infection in the U.S. and is spread by blood?

It’s hepatitis C.

There are more than 20,000 Iowans diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, including about 200 in Dallas County. The actual number of cases is likely higher because some infected persons don’t seek healthcare and remain untested.

Hepatitis C can be detected in blood within one to three weeks after exposure, but most newly infected person have no symptoms.

Symptoms of hepatitis C include yellow skin or eyes, loss of appetite, stomach pain, fever, dark urine, light-colored stool, joint pain and fatigue.

If hepatitis C is spread by blood, how might that happen?

  • Non-sterile tattoo or body piercing
  • Sharing needles (from insulin, steroids or street drugs)
  • Accidental exposure in healthcare setting
  • Blood transfusion
  • Birth from infected mother
  • Sex with an infected person
  • Sharing items with blood on them (razor, glucose monitor)

Hepatitis infects and damages the liver, which is the organ responsible for filtering blood. Untreated hepatitis C can eventually cause liver failure. If you have symptoms, get tested and start treatment.

Advice on treatment: Don’t delay, and have a strategy. If you currently drink alcohol, you must stop in order to receive liver disease treatment. Many insurance providers have restrictions on their coverage of lifesaving hepatitis C treatments.

Be sure to consult a hepatologist (liver specialist) or infectious disease specialist, experts whose treatment your insurance will probably cover. Ask your doctor to get preauthorization approval from your insurance company.

Persons diagnosed with hepatitis should learn and practice the precautions that will protect others from becoming infected.

Ann Cochran is the health navigation coordinator in the Dallas County Public Health Department.

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