According to a newly released study, there are an estimated 94,200 Oklahomans living with Hepatitis C virus infection. Estimates were developed by researchers at Emory University in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better understand the number of people in each state living with Hepatitis C.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is encouraging residents to be tested for the virus as Oklahoma had the highest estimated prevalence in the nation at 3.34 percent, while the national prevalence was 1.67 percent. The report also indicates 523 Oklahomans died due to Hepatitis C from 1999-2012, ranking our state among the highest for Hepatitis C mortality.
Hepatitis C is a virus which can cause serious liver disease. In the early stage of infection, some people will have symptoms of illness including fever, nausea, abdominal pain, or jaundice; however, many persons will not have any symptoms at all. Approximately 75 to 85 percent of people who are infected with the virus will develop a chronic condition which can lead to liver problems, including cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer or death. New medications are available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new drugs which appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. Although treatment for Hepatitis C is expensive, new drug regimens can result in a cure.
The virus is spread from exposure to an infected person’s blood. Exposure can occur when sharing needles or other injection drug equipment. Prior to 1992, Hepatitis C was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Although rare, the virus has also been transmitted in medical settings in which strict compliance with infection control standards was not observed.
The OSDH is working to combat the issue by supporting Hepatitis C testing efforts at community-based organizations which offer HIV testing, offering educational programs for medical professionals and providing education in drug and alcohol treatment centers. Additionally, the agency conducts surveillance of Hepatitis C and has recently been awarded a CDC grant to expand upon these surveillance efforts.
The only way to know if a person has Hepatitis C is to obtain a blood test. The OSDH recommends testing for the following persons:
Anyone born from 1945 through 1965.
Anyone who has injected drugs, even just once or many years ago.
Anyone with certain medical conditions, such as chronic liver disease and HIV or AIDS.
Anyone who has received donated blood or organs before 1992.
Anyone with abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
Anyone who has been exposed to the blood from a person who has Hepatitis C.
Anyone on hemodialysis.
Anyone born to a mother with Hepatitis C.
Although there is no vaccine to prevent the virus, there are ways to avoid becoming infected. These include:
Avoid sharing or reusing needles, syringes or any other equipment to prepare and inject drugs, steroids, hormones or other substances.
Do not use personal items which may have come into contact with an infected person’s blood, even in amounts too small to see, such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes or glucose monitors.
Do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting.
Hepatitis C testing is available through private medical providers, or at the following locations:
Expressions Community Center
2245 NW 39th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73112
(405) 528-2210 / eccokc.org
Red Rock Behavioral Health Services
4400 N Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 424-7711 / 1-877-339-3330 / red-rock.com
Guiding Right, Inc.
7901 NE 10th Street, Suite A-111
Midwest City, OK 73110
(405) 733-0771 / guidingright.org
Latino Community Development Agency (Habla Español)
420 SW 10th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73109
(405) 236-0701 / lcdaokc.com