AN EPIDEMIC WITHIN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY
The hepatitis C virus is a national public health crisis that is devastating among African Americans, who are twice as likely to be infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prevalence of the virus is 3 percent among African Americans, compared to 1.5 percent in the general population. African Americans made up about 13 percent of the U.S. population from 1999- 2002, yet they comprised nearly 23 percent of patients living with hepatitis C.
HEPATITIS C IS A CRITICAL PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS, LARGELY BECAUSE THE VAST MAJORITY OF INFECTED INDIVIDUALS ARE UNAWARE THAT THEY HAVE THE VIRUS.
A SILENT KILLER IN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY
African Americans are not only more likely to have hepatitis C; they are also more likely to die as a result of the virus. According to CDC data for the year 2013, the hepatitis C mortality rate per 100,000 was 4.4 for Caucasians and 8.35 – nearly double –for African Americans. Within the African American community, chronic liver disease, which is often hepatitis C-related, is a leading cause of death among people between the ages of 45 and 64. About 9.4 percent of African Americans born between 1945 and 1965 have been infected with chronic hepatitis C – compared to 3.8 percent of Caucasians.
Fortunately, new hepatitis C treatments are now available that can cure the virus in most people. Unlike older, interferon-based regimens, which has debilitating side effects and are only effective half of the time, innovative therapies offer cure rates exceeding 95 percent while causing minimal side effects.
COMBATING HEPATITIS C REQUIRES IMPROVED ACCESS TO TESTING & EFFECTIVE TREATMENT
Hepatitis C screening for at-risk patients is critical to improve awareness, connect patients with treatment, and prevent new infections. Yet research shows that African Americans are less likely to get tested – even when they are at-risk. According to the National Medical Association, the leading voice of African American physicians, African Americans are much less likely to be screened for hepatitis C, even in the presence of known risk factors. They are also less likely to be referred to a specialist for consideration of treatment.
With the availability of new treatments that can cure the virus in most cases, it is even more critical to ensure increased awareness, screening, and linkage to effective care in the African American community so that we can turn the tide on this silent epidemic to prevent illness and death.
HEPATITIS C FACTS
- 3.9 million Americans are estimated to be living with hepatitis C – the leading cause of catastrophic liver damage (cirrhosis), liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants.
- Up to 75 percent of individuals living with hepatitis C do not realize they are infected because the disease often takes years, or even decades, to cause symptoms.
- While the virus remains undetected, causing potentially life-threatening liver damage, individuals can unknowingly transmit the disease to others.
- Hepatitis C is most prevalent among baby boomers, who are five times more likely to be infected. In fact, more than 75 percent of Americans living with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965.
- Hepatitis C disproportionately affects minority Americans. Prevalence of the virus is 3 percent among African Americans and 2.6 percent among Latinos, compared to 1.5 percent of the general population. Prevalence is highest among American Indians.
- Unless current trends are reversed, the CDC predicts that deaths due to the virus will double or even triple in the next 20 years.