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Hepatitis C: A silent epidemic (you can help stop on Saturday)

More than 3 million Americans are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, and half of them don’t even realize it. You could be one of them.

By Michael Yudell

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver, causing liver damage and sometimes liver failure or liver cancer. It is the most common cause of cirrhosis of the liver and the reason for most liver transplants. Fifteen thousand Americans die of the disease each year.

It's possible – but rare – to get Hepatitis C through sex. An infected pregnant woman can also pass the virus to her child. Before 1992, when a diagnostic blood test became available, many people were infected through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

The course of the disease varies. A small percentage will clear the virus on their own. The rest, between 75 and 85 percent, will develop chronic Hepatitis C infection, which can go undiagnosed in many patients for as long as 20 to 30 years.

"Most urban communities like Philadelphia don't know the true scope of Hepatitis C because it is still so hidden," said Stacey Trooskin, who studies Hepatitis C as an infectious disease fellow at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. But Trooskin, who will join the division of infectious diseases at the Drexel University College of Medicine in July, acknowledges that new rapid testing "allows us to go out into the community to test for the virus with good linkages to care, while also providing Hepatitis education and awareness."

Because so many Americans are not aware of their Hepatitis C status, it is imperative that those at risk get tested. Trooskin says, "We want to diagnose folks," said Trooskin, "so we can treat them and prevent progression to liver disease. The treatments that we have now for Hepatitis C can cure more than half of those infected and there are even better treatments in development."

  1. Philadelphia Department of Public Health, 500 S. Broad St.; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. ("Services provided in English and Spanish. Testing is FREE and open to EVERYONE!")

  2. P-HOP's 5th Annual Community Health Fair, 2539 Germantown Ave.; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. ("Philadelphia Hepatitis Outreach Project will offer free Hepatitis C, HIV, and STI testing; activities, screening, and education about Hepatitis A, B, and C. All are welcome and it is free! Services available in English and Spanish.")

You can also get tested Saturday for Hepatitis B, another potentially deadly form of Hepatitis, at:

  1. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration, Franklin Square, Sixth and Race Streets; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. ("Hepatitis B Foundation will offer free Hepatitis B testing; infected individuals will be referred for linkage to care. Services available in English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean.")

Read more about The Public's Health.