DENVER — Free hepatitis C blood screenings will be offered throughout Colorado May 19, America’s 5th annual National Hepatitis Testing Day. This is an opportunity for people at risk to be tested, and for health care providers to educate patients about chronic viral hepatitis and treatments.
“Hepatitis represents a serious and growing public health threat,” says Nancy Steinfurth, executive director of Liver Health Connection, a Colorado patient advocacy organization. “As many as 17,000 hepatitis C (HCV) related deaths occur annually in the United States. These rates are expected to peak between the years 2030 and 2035 at 36,000 deaths per year.”
The Health of Denver Report for 2014 shows deaths locally from HCV have increased sharply in the past 10 years. In response, Denver-based Liver Health Connection and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in partnership with other non-profits and public health organizations, will host free testing for anyone concerned they may have HCV. The fast-response test requires a quick finger prick, and results are returned in 20 minutes. Those who test positive will be given information and resources for follow-up testing and care.
In Colorado, an estimated 70,000 people have HCV. But the news is mostly good. While no vaccine has been approved for HCV, new treatments can cure the virus in more than 95 percent of patients.
“Liver Health Connection provides patients with linkage to care and works with legislators, on behalf of patients, to gain greater access to treatment through Medicaid,” Steinfurth said.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.
People with acute hepatitis may have no symptoms, or they may experience jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
The World Health Organization recognizes five main hepatitis viruses, including types A, B, C, D and E. These five are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause, and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people globally and, combined statistically, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
“Early detection is the best defense against the ravages of hepatitis,” explains Steinfurth.
Anyone can be tested for HCV, but Liver Health Connection and the CDPHE especially recommend testing for those born between 1945 and 1965. Also at risk are those who had a blood transfusion or a blood product like Rhogam before 1992, obtained a tattoo outside of a licensed facility, or injected or snorted drugs – even once. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says men who have had sex with other men should be tested.
Colorado test sites are listed below. For more information about hepatitis in Colorado, visit the Step Up to Hep Colorado blog.
National Hepatitis Testing Day in the United States is part of an educational initiative of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Combating the Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis: Action Plan for the Prevention, Care & Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, Updated 2014-2016.