For Immediate Release: May 3, 2007
Media Contact: Communication Office
BURLINGTON – People can be affected with hepatitis C for years or decades before they know they are infected with the virus. During May 2007, National Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Vermont Department of Health is working to raise awareness about hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a potentially fatal liver disease that is among the most common bloodborne illnesses. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Americans are newly infected each year. In Vermont, hepatitis C is the second most commonly reported communicable disease. In 2006, there were nearly 900 newly identified cases. However, based on national statistics, there are as many as 12,000 Vermonters who have hepatitis C.
“Most people living with hepatitis C are not aware that they have the disease," said Acting Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN. “A simple blood test can detect the virus, and people who are most at high risk for exposure to the virus are encouraged to get tested.”
People are most at risk for exposure to hepatitis C from:
- Using needles, syringes, and other “works” that have been used by others and may have infected blood on or in them.
- Anyone who received - prior to July 1992 - blood, blood products or solid organs from a donor whose blood contained hepatitis C.
- Long-term kidney dialysis.
- Frequent contact with blood on the job as a healthcare worker, especially through accidental needle sticks.
It is important for people to know whether they have hepatitis C. There are drugs to treat the infection and other ways to reduce damage to the liver, such as not drinking alcohol. The hepatitis C virus can cause chronic liver disease. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The only way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid contact with infected blood.
In March 2007, the Health Department started a new program that offers free and anonymous hepatitis C testing at the three syringe-exchange programs in Burlington, St. Johnsbury and White River Junction. Because injection drug users are at highest risk for exposure, low-cost sterile syringes are are also available without a prescription at some pharmacies in Vermont.
Possession of needles and syringes as part of a needle exchange program is not in violation of Vermont’s paraphernalia law.
For more information about hepatitis C, visit the Health Department website at http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/hepatitis_c/