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Our Continuing Work to Respond to Hepatitis C in Pierce County

Viral Hepatitis Coordinator Kim Desmarais
by Kim Steele-Peter05/01/2018 2:49 p.m.
Updated: 01/04/2019

Hepatitis C cases are on the rise nationally and in Pierce County. Our Public Health Responds to Increasing Rates of Hepatitis C blog post on April 16 focused on our stepped-up efforts to identify and follow up on more hepatitis C infections in our community.

Injection drug use is the most common risk factor for acute, or newly acquired, hepatitis C infection. That’s different from being infected years ago but not getting diagnosed until recently. Rates have increased because of the opioid epidemic. Expect to hear more about our hepatitis work in May, which is National Hepatitis Awareness Month.

This chart compares acute cases of hepatitis C in the state to those in Pierce County. State data were unavailable for 2017 and 2018.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver. It’s the leading cause of liver cancer and most people with the infection don't know they have it. In fact, many people with hepatitis C live for decades with no symptoms. The good news is testing could save your life, because new treatments can cure hepatitis C—more than 90 percent of the time.

Sometimes, our increased hepatitis work identifies infection not related to the opioid epidemic or injection drug use. On April 30, MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup announced a potential hepatitis C exposure in a healthcare setting. It involves patients who visited that Emergency Department between Aug. 4, 2017 and March 23, 2018. The hospital is notifying those patients and has made arrangements for free testing and, if needed, treatment.

We are working closely with the hospital on the disease investigation. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department identified the two infected patients with acute hepatitis C in the Good Samaritan case. Our investigation found a link between the patients and the hospital.

If you receive a notification from your healthcare provider that you may have been exposed to hepatitis C and need to get tested, follow the instructions for testing. By testing for hepatitis C, you help yourself, your family and your community. There is no shame in having hepatitis C. And no one else in your family or community will know your results.

Because of our ongoing hepatitis C disease surveillance efforts, we expect to find people in the community with hepatitis C who don’t know it. Here’s how to find out if you’re at risk.

Am I at risk for hepatitis C?

People born from 1945-1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C. If you were born between 1945-1965, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about getting tested. The national blood supply was not tested for hepatitis C prior to 1992, so in the past it was possible to get hepatitis C from blood transfusions. The healthcare field hasn’t always used our current universal precautions to prevent the spread of blood borne diseases. Public health works with healthcare partners to ensure best practices in infection control.

Hepatitis C Infographic that shows how the virus spreads and how it does not spread

When to get tested

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should get tested for hepatitis C:

  • Did you receive a notification letter about possible hepatitis C exposure and the need to get tested?
  • Have you used injection drugs and shared drug equipment with a person who has hepatitis C?
  • Did you receive donated blood or organs before 1992?
  • Does your mom have hepatitis C?
  • Have you had sex with a person who has hepatitis C?
  • Have you shared personal care items like razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, tweezers or floss with a person who has hepatitis C?
  • Did you get a tattoo from an unregulated source, like in prison or from a friend?
  • Do you have concerns about a healthcare procedure you received, like an injection or blood draw?
  • Were you born between 1945 and 1965?

May is National Hepatitis Awareness Month

We are getting more reports of hepatitis C cases, but most likely this is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of people in Pierce County may have the virus and not know it. National Hepatitis Awareness Month calls attention to the risks for hepatitis A, B, and C, how to avoid the viruses, and options for treatment. Take this free online test to find out if you are at risk. 

Hepatitis is serious. It’s on the rise in our community, and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department will likely support future healthcare facility efforts to ask their patients to get tested. But the good news is—when we find newly acquired cases, we can help people get the treatment they need. That gets people well, saves lives, and helps our community to be healthier. 

For more information about hepatitis C, visit www.tpchd.org/hepc.

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  1. Updated: 01/04/2019
  2. Updated: 01/03/2019
Viral Hepatitis Coordinator Kim Desmarais

by Kim Steele-Peter

Kim leads our efforts to identify and follow up on hepatitis activity in our communities.

 

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