More Israelis are carriers of hepatitis C

140,000 unaware they have the ‘quiet disease,’ which is fully curable.

Doctor and patient (illustrative). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Doctor and patient (illustrative).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The number of carriers of hepatitis C – a viral disease that can now be cured with medications, which previously proved fatal to many by causing cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer – has increased by 34% in the last five years.
Rambam Medical Center in Haifa said Sunday that as more than 80% of carriers are not aware that they have been exposed to the disease, people should come in to be checked. The contagious liver disease caused by hepatitis C progresses slowly and often shows no symptoms.
The speed at which the virus advances is different for each person, but by the time symptoms appear, liver damage is often already advanced. Alcohol use, for example, speeds up the damage.
The virus is carried in the blood. Although there are many ways that this can happen, there are certain factors that can put people at a higher risk, such as being exposed to blood from someone with hepatitis C, including being born between 1945 and 1965; being born to a mother with the virus; having received an organ transplant before 1992; having a blood transfusion before 1992; injecting illegal drugs, even if it was a long time ago or just once; having HIV or AIDS; having signs or symptoms of liver disease; or having a history of long-term kidney dialysis.
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Among the symptoms are fever, lack of appetite, an upset stomach, vomiting, tiredness, dark-colored urine, gray-colored stool, jaundiced eyes and skin and joint pain.
There are different types (called genotypes) of the hepatitis C virus that can be determined by a simple blood test. Knowing which genotype one has is important in getting the proper treatment.
It’s a “quiet disease,” said Dr. Ella Veizman, head of the liver disease center at Rambam.
“That’s why we estimate that there are 140,000 carriers who have not yet been diagnosed. Most have no idea they were infected, and without diagnosis and treatment, they will be caught unaware by damage to the liver that could require a liver transplant or be untreatable,” she said.
Medications that have become available in recent years and are in the basket of health are a breakthrough in dealing with hepatitis C, she added. Unlike the previous generations of drugs that brought with them suffering and pain from side effects, the new ones are easily and efficiently taken.
Israel was one of the first countries in the world that made the new drugs available to carriers, Veizman said. “We advise everyone in a high-risk group to come in for testing to avoid the appearance of the disease and danger to their lives.”