SAN DIEGO–Last week, the steering committee of the Eliminate Hepatitis C San Diego County Initiative met for the first time, an initial step in the effort to reduce new infections of hepatitis C by 80 percent and deaths by 65 percent over the next 12 years.
Spearheaded by the County Health and Human Services Agency and the American Liver Foundation-Pacific Coast Division, the committee, comprised of members from the public and private medical community, met to begin developing recommendations to accomplish this ambitious goal.
“By joining forces and strengthening our local efforts, we expect to eliminate this curable disease as a public health threat and improve longevity and quality of life for people living with hepatitis C,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer.
Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus, different than the viruses that cause hepatitis A and B. The virus, for which there is no vaccine, often goes unnoticed since most people who contract it will not show symptoms until they develop long-term complications. Acute hepatitis C typically occurs within six months of exposure and symptoms include fever, fatigue, dark urine, nausea, vomiting and jaundice.
“Most people with hepatitis C might not be aware of their infection because they do not feel ill,” said Scott Suckow, executive director of the American Liver Foundation-Pacific Coast Division, which promotes liver health and disease prevention through research, education and advocacy for those affected by liver-related diseases, including hepatitis.
Over time, most people (75 to 85 percent) infected with hepatitis C will develop chronic infection. Complications begin to appear 20 to 30 years after contracting the virus, with roughly 20 percent of people with chronic hepatitis C going on to develop cirrhosis and, in some cases, cancer of the liver.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 3.5 million people in the United States are estimated to have chronic hepatitis C and approximately 18,000 people died in 2016 from hepatitis C-related liver disease, a figure which the CDC believes is an underestimate.
Last year, 3,112 new cases of hepatitis C cases were reported in San Diego County. Hepatitis C is listed as an underlying cause of death annually in 70 to 100 deaths in the region.