County hepatitis C numbers lead to increased screening |

County hepatitis C numbers lead to increased screening

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Local health officials are concerned that increasing numbers of hepatitis-C cases are going undetected as exposure climbs.

The Summit County Community Care Clinic has confirmed two positive tests for the disease since January and has records of 30 county residents who have been exposed, said Carolynn Lyle, a certified physician’s assistant at the clinic.

The actual number of people infected is likely much higher, she said.

Deborah Miliner, also a PA-C with the clinic, said many can carry the disease for 20 or 30 years without symptoms.

“That’s the bummer: They might not have any symptoms ever, except that (their) liver is slowly dying,” she said.

The clinic now offers free tests ” valued at about $30 ” to folks with such high risk factors as blood transfusions prior to 1992 and pokes with used needles.

The tests check for antibodies to hepatitis C rather than the disease itself.

About 15 to 25 percent of people exposed to the disease get rid of it without treatment, but most carry it the rest of their lives, according to a pamphlet from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, unlike hepatitis A or B.

Hepatitis C spreads through blood-to-blood contact, so it typically isn’t passed sexually unless the sex is traumatic, Miliner said, adding that anal sex can pose a high risk.

Summit County had 17 reported hepatitis C cases in 2005, according to CDPHE.

About 85,000 Coloradans and 4 million Americans have been exposed to the disease, according to Laura Ginnett, community outreach director with Denver-based Hepatitis C Connection.

And up to 70 percent of exposed people are between 45 and 65 years old, according to a community clinic fact sheet.

Lyle said anyone who could be at risk is encouraged to be tested, as the disease is “much easier to catch than (human immunodeficiency virus).”

Other risk factors include tattoos applied in unprofessional settings; shared razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers; multiple sexual partners and shared drug-snorting paraphernalia.

Medication is available for folks diagnosed with the disease and about 50 percent of people treated are cured.

But these drugs aren’t for everyone, as the treatment is hard on the body.

People with obesity or poor general health may not be able to receive treatment. It also costs thousands of dollars and includes an injection and pills every week for up to a year, Lyle said.

“Some may want to wait and see if better drugs come along,” she said, adding that new treatment options could be available soon.

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