About 146,500 people in New York City are infected with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Forty percent of them don’t even know they have the virus.
These are two good reasons why this serious condition is in the spotlight this May, which is Hepatitis Awareness Month. The rate of infection is still high, and HCV is often asymptomatic, which means that you can have the virus for many years without knowing it.
HCV is a liver infection caused by a virus in the blood. Approximately 75 to 85 percent of people have the chronic form of HCV, which can result in serious health issues that can lead to liver disease, liver failure, and liver-related death.
HCV can be transmitted when the blood of a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Most people become infected through sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs or being born to a mother who has HCV. It is also possible to contract HCV through sex.
Chronic HCV is often silent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 to 80 percent of people with acute HCV do not have any symptoms. “Baby Boomers” are at particularly high risk; compared with other age groups, people born between 1945 and 1965 are more likely to be infected with HCV. Even if people with Hepatitis C have no symptoms, they can still pass the virus to others.
It is important to talk to your doctor and get the simple blood test if you believe you may be at risk. There are many locations in New York City to receive free or low-cost HCV testing and treatment. May 19 is Hepatitis Testing Day. Click here to find a testing site or treatment near you.
Living with HIV and HCV
As many as 25-30 percent of people living with HIV are co-infected with HCV. Those who are co-infected often have a weaker immune response to HCV compared to those who aren’t co-infected. HIV co-infection a person’s risk for liver disease from HCV.
The Good News: There Is a Cure for HCV
The worst HCV status is “unknown.” You can now be treated and cured with new medications that are fast-acting and have no serious side effects. If you test positive for HCV, it’s critical to get treated as soon as possible before liver disease advances.
After you’re cured, it is still possible to become re-infected. To avoid reinfection, it is recommended to abstain from intravenous drug use, as this is one of the most common ways of contracting HCV.
It’s also recommended to use a condom during sex and not to share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal items that may come into contact with another person’s blood.
Learn more at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hundreds of Amida Care members have received treatment and have been cured of HCV. Amida Care is a Special Needs Health Plan (SNP) that provides comprehensive health coverage, at little or no cost, to Medicaid-eligible New Yorkers who qualify for our Live Life Plus plan. Confidential answers are available at 1-855-GO-AMIDA (1-855-462-6432) (TTY 711).