NEW YORK CITY – May 1, 2008 – At least
one in 50 New York City adults is infected with hepatitis C, according to new
findings from the Health Department. But because many are unaware of their
infection, they may miss out on the steps needed to protect themselves and
prevent transmission. Data from the city’s Health and Nutrition Examination
Survey show that 2 percent of New York City adults – about 130,000 people –
are infected with the virus. The actual number is higher because hepatitis C is
especially prevalent among the homeless and the incarcerated – two groups not
covered by this survey. National survey
data yielded similar findings for the country as a whole.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a blood-borne viral infection
that damages the liver. Many people contracted it through blood transfusions
before the blood supply was protected in 1992. It is also common among people
who have used needles to inject street drugs. Hep C can spread sexually or pass
from mother to child at birth, but both are rare occurrences.
Some people can live with Hep C without ever suffering
symptoms, but 15 percent of infected people develop cirrhosis – a scarring of
the liver that can lead to cancer – and 4 percent of infections are fatal. The
infection can progress silently for 10, 20 or 30 years, even when it is
destroying the liver. Most people with Hep C are now in their 50s. Many are just
now discovering that they were infected during the 1970s and 80s, through blood
transfusions or shared needles.
Who Should Get Tested?
Hepatitis C spreads only through blood, not through food or casual
contact. The people who most need to be tested are those who have:
- Ever injected street drugs, even just once or a long
- Had a blood transfusion, received blood products, or
had an organ transplant before July 1992
- Ever been on kidney dialysis
- Had unprotected sex with many partners, or with a
partner who had Hep C or injected drugs
- Received tattoos from someone other than a licensed
- Tested positive for HIV
- Been born in a country with a
high Hep C rate, such as Egypt or the Soviet
“Hepatitis C can be a very serious infection, causing liver disease and
death,” said Dr. Sharon Balter,
Medical Epidemiologist in the Health Department’s Bureau of Communicable
Disease. “The infection may not cause symptoms for decades, even though it is
damaging the liver. If you have ever injected drugs – even once, decades ago –
you should get tested. And if you received blood more than 15 years ago, you
should get tested, too. If you are positive, treatment is available. There are
things you can do to control the virus and stay healthy.”
How to Prevent Hep C
There is no vaccine against Hepatitis C.
Here is how you can protect yourself:
- Don’t inject street drugs. If you do, use a new needle and injecting equipment
every time. Read Know
the Facts (PDF) for more information.
- Practice safer sex by using latex
condoms. Avoid sexual acts that can
tear body tissues and draw blood.
- If you get tattoos, get
them only from a licensed professional
- Don’t share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal care items that may have blood
Living with Hep C: Take Care of
people who contract Hep C virus will remain infected for the rest of their
lives. But tests can determine whether the virus is active in your body, and
medication can suppress it about
50 percent of those who take it. If you are infected, taking care of your
liver is critical. Here are of the most important ways to protect
- Do not drink alcohol. Drinking can make your liver
disease much worse.
- Get the Right Medical Care. See a doctor who knows
about Hep C – even if you don’t feel sick. People with chronic Hep C need
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. These are different
infections, but they can accelerate the harm that Hep C causes.
- Eat well, rest, and exercise to help your body stay
- Talk about your feelings. Finding
out that you have Hep C can be overwhelming. You may feel scared, sad, angry,
confused and upset. These feelings are normal and can get better with time.
For more information on living with Hep C, visit
Health Department Efforts to Reduce Hep
The Health Department works with community partners to increase
awareness, promote screening, and improve care for Hepatitis C. Efforts
- Offering free Hepatitis C testing at STD clinics
throughout the city. Over 1,000 people were tested in 2007 at STD clinics and
partner agencies. For testing locations, call 311.
- Convening quarterly meetings of the Brooklyn and
Bronx Hepatitis C Taskforce. A new Task Force in Queens will meet for the
first time this month. These groups bring together community organizations and
advocates working together to raise awareness and increase screening and care.
- Providing free training and educational materials to
more than 500 health care providers each year.
- Promoting safe needle use and reducing transmission
by supporting 13 needle exchanges in the city. Clean needles can prevent Hep C
and HIV without causing any increase in injection drug use.
For more information on Hepatitis C, see http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/hanes/hanes01.pdf.
Hepatitis A and B are different infections, even though both affect the
liver. For more information on the differences, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/cd/cdhepc-fs9.shtml.
About the Data
Hepatitis C prevalence data comes from the New York City Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey (NYC HANES), a survey modeled after the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination
Survey (NHANES). The survey examined several health conditions in New York City, including
diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, mercury levels, and depression. The
survey was conducted in 2004 in a representative sample of New York City adults 20
years of age or older. Of the 1,999 people enrolled in the survey, 1790 were
included in the testing for Hep C.