AR Health Department urges baby boomers to get tested for Hepatitis C

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Department of Health urges people born between 1945 and 1965 to get tested for Hepatitis C.

According to the department, about 38,000 adult Arkansans could be living with Hep C.

"And many of those don't even know it," said Dr. Shane Speights with St. Bernards Medical Center.

The reason: the virus can infect a person and not show symptoms for 20, 30 years. This is why the department calls it a "silent killer."

"Unfortunately, we will have individuals show up or patients that end up in the hospital and in our routine testing, we find out they do have some liver disorder," Speights said. "And upon further testing, they'll become positive for Hepatitis C."

Injection drug users and people who've received blood transfusions, shared needles or had unprotected sex are "high risk" for having Hep C.

Symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain and jaundice, the yellow discoloration of skin and eyes.

Dr. Shane Speights said early detection and treatment of the virus are the only ways to avoid permanent liver damage and possible death.

"Get tested," Speights said. "It's a simple blood test that you could get done in your doctor's office."

If the test comes back positive, Hep C can be acute, which is curable with medication. 

"About 15 to 20 percent of the time, an individual who gets Hepatitis C can get over it," Speights said. "Your body can fight it and you can actually rid your body of the virus."

However, Dr. Speights said the higher percentage of people keep the virus. When Hep C becomes chronic, it is incurable.

"It gets into the later stages of the disease where you have more liver failure," Speights said.

Hep C contributed to more than 1,500 deaths in Arkansas between 1999 and 2012.

There are currently no vaccinations for the virus.

To learn more about Hep C, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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