Hepatitis C: More widespread than AIDS

The 1960s may have been the days of free love, but casual sex
these days is more of a

show me your papers

affair. In a world where AIDS exists, it can’t really be
The 1960s may have been the days of free love, but casual sex these days is more of a “show me your papers” affair. In a world where AIDS exists, it can’t really be helped.

But AIDS isn’t the only disease sexually active teens and adults need to be thinking about when they decide to take the plunge … or get a tattoo, visit a developing nation or share a needle.

Hepatitis C infects more than four million people in Santa Clara County – four times the number of people who are infected with AIDS in the United States, according to the Santa Clara County Department of Health. Numbers weren’t available for San Benito County.

The virus infects and inflames the liver, sometimes causing flu-like symptoms including headaches, fatigue, nausea, fever, abdominal pain and appetite loss, or jaundice symptoms such as dark urine and yellowed eyes and skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

No cure exists for this strain of hepatitis, but complications do. About 20 percent of patients who develop hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis, the same scarring of the liver commonly seen in chronic alcohol abusers from long-term inflammation.

This can lead to impairment of liver function, increased likelihood of liver cancer and the possible need for a liver transplant, according to the department of health, but many people who are infected do not get tested because they feel just fine.

Like HIV, there is a certain stigma to hepatitis C because a high percentage of cases – as many as 80 to 90 percent – are the result of injection drug use, according to health department documents. But a wide range of people are potential victims of the virus, from tattoo recipients to health care workers and missionaries who have spent extended periods of time in developing nations.

“You’d be surprised at the people who have to tell us they’re infected: Respectable people who look just like you and me,” said one Gilroy dental technician. “You don’t know where people were 15 years ago or what they might have been doing as a teenager.”

Others who may be at risk, according to the CDC, include the following:

• Anyone who has been notified that he or she received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C

• Anyone who ever injected illegal drugs, even if it was just a bit of experimentation many years ago

• Anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992

• Anyone who received clotting factor or factors made before 1987

• Anyone who has been on long-term kidney dialysis

• Anyone who has had evidence of liver disease such as an extended pattern of abnormal ALT levels

As with any disease, knowledge is power, even if it’s not the most wonderful thing to hear.

Vaccines exist for hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C.

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