Bringing awareness to hepatitis C

Posted at: 07/25/2013 4:13 PM
Updated at: 07/25/2013 5:50 PM
By: Joangel Concepcion

It's an issue you may not be aware of and medical experts are saying it affects more people than you think.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that stems from contracting the virus. The Centers for Disease Control says the virus can range from a mild to a serious, lifelong illness. It's usually spread from blood from person to person. Currently, most people become infected with the virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before the 1990's, it was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. The impact in our area is enough to make local organizations and lawmakers act.

Local organizations teamed up with Senator Ted O'Brien to declare Thursday the very first annual African American Hepatitis C Action Day. But if you're not African American, it doesn't mean you're out of the clear. What's scary is, like HIV, a person with hepatitis C can look completely healthy and not even know they have the virus. That's why experts say everyone should get tested.

Democratic Senator Ted O'Brien, 55th Senate District, said, “People must absolutely know how serious this health risk is, particularly in the African-American community where it is most common.”

Senator Ted O'Brien is talking about hepatitis C, a serious virus that affects many in our area.

Senator O'Brien said, “Every year, we have about 300 to 400 cases , active cases of people who have chronic viral hepatitis.”

Those who are also at risk are HIV patients, drug users and anyone born between 1945-1965.

Angerame said, “That is one of the age groups that we want to get tested because we didn't know how to protect ourselves back in the baby boomer days. A lot of people were exposed and they don't know that they have it.”

News10NBC caught up with nurse Marty Angerame, who is involved with a local hepatitis C program.

Angerame said, “Now we're doing the test and the test is testing for an antibody, which is a chemical that your body creates to fight off the germ.”

The test is easy. All it takes is the prick of a finger and 20 minutes of your time. The good news is there is help.

Byron Kennedy, Monroe County Department of Health, said, “We have a better treatment now that we can cure 80% of the people. It involves pills, taking shots and it is a very individualized treatment.”

But nurse Angerame says what can really save your life is early detection.

Angerame said, “The sooner you find out, the easier it is to treat you. If you already have scarring of the liver, if you already have cirrhosis, it's that much harder to get rid of the virus.”

The patient shown in our video was kind enough to let us film the testing process, but all of the screenings are confidential so you can feel comfortable going in and getting a test. If do you test positive, there are counselors and doctors available for help.

There are several places throughout the city that offer the screening for free. The Anthony Jordan Health Center, Trillium Health(formerly AIDS Care) on Monroe Avenue and  Central Avenue will offer free screenings. For more information, click here.

Senator O'Brien pushed for a bill requiring all medical providers to offer hepatitis C testing, especially to those baby boomers, which account for more than 75% of people affected by this disease. He calls it an important step. He says it should become law later on this year.