Hepatitis C infection is a major public health concern for people of all races, and it has become one of the leading causes of death associated with liver cancer in the United States. Hepatitis C is more prevalent in the African American population than in any other racial group in the United States. An estimated 3.2 million Americans, more than 75 percent of whom are "Baby Boomers" born between 1945 and 1965, are infected with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV).
To address this health disparity and help increase Hepatitis C awareness, testing and access to treatment for individuals infected with the virus, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc. (NBLCA), Coalition On Positive Health Empowerment (C.O.P.E.), and the Harm Reduction Coalition are inviting public health and community organizations and people throughout the nation to participate in the second annual National African American Hepatitis C Action Day (NAAHCAD) on Friday, July 25. Free HCV testing and informational events are being offered in communities nationwide. NAAHCAD provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of HCV prevention, linkage to care, and other major health concerns, such as the risk of co-infection with HIV or STDs.
Understanding Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is the most common type of hepatitis in the United States. Hepatitis C can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, chronic illness. Since Hepatitis C often does not have any symptoms, it is critical that people get tested to find out if they have the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer.
How Is the Infection Spread?
Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with blood from a person infected with the virus. Today, most people get Hepatitis C by sharing equipment for injecting drugs. In the past, many people got Hepatitis C from receiving blood transfusions or organ transplants before widespread screening of the blood supply was established in 1992. Getting a needle-stick injury on the job as a health care or safety worker or being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C can put people at risk for contracting the virus.
Although uncommon, the Hepatitis C virus can also be spread through sex. The virus seems to be more easily spread through sex when a person also has HIV or an STD (sexually transmitted disease).
Preventing Hepatitis C
Since there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, the best way to prevent infection is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the virus. Getting tested for the virus also can help people who are infected to take steps to prevent the spread of the infection. Remember that early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer.
Testing for Hepatitis C
Testing for viral hepatitis consists of a simple blood test that can determine if a person has ever been exposed to the virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, born between 1945 and 1965 (Baby Boomers) should get tested for Hepatitis C.
NBLCA has developed a toolkit to assist organizations interested in promoting and planning events for NAAHCAD. The toolkit includes promotional materials as well as fact sheets and other information resources about HCV prevention and treatment. Organizations may list information about their events at the NAACHAD events web page, where community members can go to find Hepatitis C testing events in their area. The CDC has an easy-to-use online risk assessment that can help identify people who need to talk to their doctor about getting tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis (there are vaccines for Hepatitis A and B). More information about HCV testing and treatment is also available by calling the American Liver Foundation hotline, 1-800-GO-LIVER.
For more information about National African American Hepatitis C Action Day, visit www.nblca.org.