By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer of Science and Technology
The effort to wipe out the hepatitis C in the state of Missouri is a team approach. It’s all about increasing testing and treatment for hepatitis C, the most common blood-borne infection. According to CDC estimates, 2.4 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis C, and half of them may not know they’re infected.
“Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver,” said Dima Dandachi, MD, MU Health Care Infectious Disease Specialist. “The patient would not have any symptoms until late in the stage of liver disease. And it progresses to cause what we call liver fibrosis and liver cirrhosis. And in the future, it can even cause liver cancer.”
Infectious diseases experts at MU Health Care in Columbia work closely with doctors to fight the viral infection.
“The good news is that hepatitis C, unlike for example other viruses that could live in our body, we have cure for it,” said Dandachi.
Hepatitis C is curable with oral medication, so Missouri is now engaged in a statewide effort to eliminate hepatitis C. Missouri’s first hepatitis C elimination plan is called Show Me the Cure. Tara McKinney, the Viral Hepatitis Director with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, is leading the effort.
“It is a disease that we could actually eliminate the United States and in Missouri, making sure that citizens know where to go for testing, they know where to go for treatment,” said McKinney.
Hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted in the U. S. via sharing needles, syringes and other drug use equipment.
“People can also get it from having, for example, tattoos from places that are not professional,” said Dandachi.
Hepatitis C can also be sexually transmitted or passed from mother to baby. Most people with hepatitis C do not have any symptoms.
“The only way you’re going to know that you have hepatitis C is to get tested,” said McKinney.
“And when we diagnose it early, we could treat it early and people would not have the complications that hepatitis C could cause, or progress to liver cancer and so on,” said Dandachi.
Which is why the CDC recommends all adults be screened through a blood test at least once in their lifetime. Once identified, over 90% of people with hepatitis C can be cured within eight to 12 weeks. Education and awareness are key to Show Me the Cure.
“There’s a lot of stigma surrounding Hepatitis C because of the way hepatitis C is transmitted,” said McKinney. “And we want providers and Missouri citizens alike to help lift that stigma so that people feel comfortable accessing services.”
To learn about other hepatitis C testing opportunities, contact your local health department.