Hepatitis C Action Day Targets At-Risk Groups

Awareness-raising day included events throughout the country aimed at reducing the high incidence of infection among people in black communities.

Hepatitis C awareness efforts kicked into high gear last week in communities serving African Americans, a group that has a higher than average prevalence of the virus.

Up to 80% of people who get the bloodborne virus don’t have symptoms with acute hepatitis C, the early stages of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If chronic infection sets in, the virus can seriously damage the liver and over time cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, and the need for a liver transplant.

National African American Hepatitis C Action Day was held July 25 and included events throughout the country aimed at reducing the high incidence of infection among people in black communities. The National Black Leadership Commission on Aids worked with health partners and government agencies in more than 20 states to support education and awareness of the disease. Free testing will be offered in many cities that sponsor events.

Baby boomers are the largest population of people believed to be living with hepatitis C in the US, according to the CDC, which has recommended testing for the virus among all people born from 1945 to 1965. The burden of this disease is even greater among African Americans, who are 74.6% more likely to have ever been infected with the virus compared to the overall population, according to a 2013 National Medical Association panel report about the hepatitis C crisis among African Americans.

C. Virginia Fields, the commission’s president and CEO, noted in a news release that millions of Americans have hepatitis C and the “vast majority do not know that they are infected.”

“New therapies are now available that can cure hepatitis C, making awareness and testing more critical than ever,” Fields said. “It is time for us as a community and as a nation, to take action, as this day implies, and spread the word about the importance of testing and linkage to care and the ability to effectively treat this deadly disease.”

Another awareness campaign is planned for July 28 when millions of people are expected to take part in World Hepatitis Day. Public and private groups will sponsor events to spotlight advances in treatment and ways to detect and prevent the spread of the virus that infects millions of people worldwide, according to a press release.

Health officials estimate that 400 million people across the globe have either hepatitis B or C, according to the website worldhepatitisday.org, which is sponsored by the World Health Alliance and the World Health Organization. Visitors to the website are urged to learn the facts and are reminded that 1.4 million people die every year from viral hepatitis, deaths that could be prevented “with better awareness and understanding” of the disease.