Arkansas health leaders report an increase in hepatitis C cases

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 4:50 PM CST
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - The Arkansas Department of Health is encouraging anyone who may have been exposed to hepatitis C to get tested. This comes as the state reports an increase in the number of cases.

Hepatitis C is contagious. It spreads through contact with an infected person’s blood directly or through a contaminated object. The virus is spread mostly through drug use, according to Arkansas Department of Health officials. Anyone with the virus may experience multiple symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and yellowing of the skin.

“It’s a nationwide problem, especially with the opioid epidemic largely contributing to the number of cases,” said Dr. Naveen Patil, with the Arkansas Department of Health. “We estimated there are anywhere from 35-50,000 cases in the state.”

The biggest issue with hepatitis C is minimal early effects. Dr. Patil says most baby boomers are now starting to realize they have it, as the effects become noticeable. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, nearly 50% of all hepatitis C cases are among Caucasians.

”It’s a chronic disease, so people, once they are infected, may not know they have been infected until 20, 30, 40, even 50 years later,” said Dr. Patil. “By that point, it’s already taken major effect.”

Hepatitis C is a disease that attacks the liver. The number of patients awaiting a liver transplant for alcohol-related hepatitis has soared during the pandemic. The department of health says it has likely played a role in the spike.

”People have been diverted from work towards these diseases, towards COVID activities, and also behaviors have changed,” Dr. Patil explained. “As we opened up and people started again with activities they’ve taken more risk.”

Hepatitis C is a curable disease in 95% of cases, but if not detected early can have irreversible effects.

”If your liver becomes cirrhotic as we say, damaged, rubbery, and all of that, some of those damages may not be able to be treated by medication,” said Dr. Patil.

You can seek testing at your local health department or through a primary care physician.

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