Approximately 2.5 million people in the U.S. are living with chronic hepatitis C virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as many as 75 percent of people with the disease don’t know they’re infected. Untreated, chronic hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis and liver cancer. While these numbers may sound startling, there’s good news, too.
Thanks to the recent development of direct-acting antiviral medications, treatment of chronic hepatitis C has evolved significantly to be shorter in duration, cause fewer side effects and have cure rates higher than 90 percent for those treated.
To encourage testing, treatment and wellness, the American Liver Foundation, the nation’s largest patient advocacy organization for people living with liver disease, and Lincoln Financial Group are offering the following information:
n Get tested: Chronic hepatitis C is called the silent disease because many with the virus show no symptoms. Therefore, testing — often a simple blood test — is important for higher risk populations, especially baby boomers.
The CDC recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested, as this portion of the population is five times more likely to have chronic hepatitis C than other adults. Other higher-risk populations include current or former drug users, recipients of blood transfusions or organ transplants before July 1992, hemodialysis patients, those who have gotten tattoos or body piercings with nonsterile equipment, workers who have come in contact with infected blood at their jobs, and those with HIV.
If you test positive, your health care provider will suggest which medication treatment options are right for you based on your particular circumstances. Today’s treatments typically involve eight to 12 weeks of oral medication, and are well tolerated with few side effects.
“With continued improvements in detection and treatment, understanding your risk for chronic hepatitis C can save your life,” said Tom Nealon, president and CEO of American Liver Foundation. “We encourage those high-risk populations to get tested, so they can get treated and get cured.”
Once you’ve received treatment, stay on the path to wellness. To protect your physical health, keep all your medical and lab appointments, see your physicians regularly, eat healthfully, pursue hobbies, exercise and avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. It can be common to face some emotional and mental stress as a result of the disease itself, as well as the stigma associated with it. Getting the support you need to overcome these challenges helps the healing process. For resources, visit liverfoundation.org.
After treatment, it’s important to recognize and overcome the financial challenges created by the disease. If you were denied life insurance in the past, consider speaking with a financial advisor to determine how to get affordable coverage. Some insurance providers have incorporated the most up-to-date chronic hepatitis C information into their underwriting approach, allowing for expanded eligibility and lower costs for coverage.
“Those with hepatitis C are now more empowered to secure their financial futures,” said Dr. John Greene, vice president and chief medical director at Lincoln Financial Group.