Early Diagnosis and Prevention Key to Beating Hepatitis C
BAYTOWN — (Jan14, 2022) — Hepatitis C is a stealthy virus that can be potentially lethal. An estimated 3.5 million Americans have the hepatitis C virus, but because it frequently has no symptoms, many of them have no idea their health could be in danger.
Hepatitis C, the most common type of the disease in the U.S., primarily affects the liver. It may cause inflammation and can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Dr. Rashid Khan, a gastroenterologist/hepatologist with Houston Methodist Gastroenterology Associates, says May’s designation as Hepatitis Awareness Month (liverfoundation.org) helps bring attention to the prevalence of the virus in the U.S. and its potentially dangerous impact. He says people in high risk groups for developing hepatitis C should schedule a blood test to detect the disease in its earliest stages.
“Hep C spreads through the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person,” Khan said. “Someone may become infected by using intravenous drugs (sharing needles), acquiring tattoos, piercings, and getting blood products (donated blood) prior to the 1990s. Sexual transmission is not common, but does occur.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a one-time screening blood test for anyone with an increased risk of infection. The CDC reports that baby boomers (anyone born between 1945 and 1965) have a higher risk of contracting hepatitis C. Other high-risk groups include people with HIV, patients undergoing long-term kidney dialysis and anyone born to a mother who has the disease. Khan says while there is no vaccine to prevent the disease, there are steps available to lessen the risk of infection.
“To avoid getting the virus, do not share personal items such as razors, and be careful when getting things like piercings, tattoos and manicures because the equipment may be contaminated with infected blood. Practice safe sex and avoid injection drug usage,” Khan said.
Chronic, or long-term hepatitis C, may result in cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. It may remain a “silent” infection for many years until the virus damages the liver sufficiently to cause symptoms. Some patients will experience nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, jaundice, itchy skin, bleeding or bruising easily, dark colored urine, swelling in the legs, confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech. Khan says new advanced treatments for hep C have been developed in recent years, including highly effective oral therapies. In cases in which the disease progresses to cirrhosis, however, liver transplantation may be required.
Now located in their new, spacious office located conveniently in Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital (4301 Garth Rd., Suite 200, Independence Plaza 2), the specialists with Houston Methodist Gastroenterology Associates—Dr. Khan, Ludie Hernandez-Buck, MD, Dr. Yassir Ashraf and Samir Nath, MD—diagnose and treat the full spectrum of gastroenterology conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, fatty liver disease, acid reflux disease, colon and rectal cancer screening, and diverticular disease. To schedule an appointment, visit houstonmethodist.org/baytown or call 281-422-7970.
About Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital
Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital has provided Baytown and east Harris, Liberty and Chambers counties with quality medical care since opening its doors in 1948. The hospital has grown throughout the years with the community, providing comprehensive care at all stages of life. As a health care leader, the hospital is proud to have a fully integrated residency program focused on educating and inspiring future practitioners. Today, Houston Methodist Baytown provides some of the most advanced and innovative procedures while never wavering from its focus on compassionate and patient-centered care. Houstonmethodist.org/baytown.