The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has released its first report on hepatitis C infection in Iowa. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants in the U.S.

Hepatitis C replication Image/ GrahamColm
Hepatitis C replication
Image/ GrahamColm

A comparison of data from 2000 to 2015 shows the number of Iowans diagnosed with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection increased nearly three-fold, from 754 cases in 2000 to 2,235 cases in 2015. The number of HCV diagnoses among those between the ages of 18 and 30 has more than quadrupled since 2009, with 303 diagnoses in 2015. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people with HCV infection don’t have any symptoms and therefore are not tested or diagnosed. Because of this, the number of Americans and Iowans who are infected with hepatitis C is likely much higher than the report indicates.

According to Randy Mayer, Chief of the IDPH Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis, the increase in diagnoses is expected and is a positive sign. “These data indicate that Iowans are getting tested and referred to treatment by their medical providers. Everyone born between 1945 and 1965 and anyone who has ever injected non-prescription drugs, even once, should be tested for hepatitis C.”

The majority (63 percent) of Iowans reported with HCV were between the ages of 45 and 64. This mirrors national data, and has prompted the CDC to recommend anyone born between 1945 and 1965 talk to their doctor about being tested for Hepatitis C. CDC also recommends testing for HCV if:

  • You ever injected non-prescription drugs, even if you injected only one time or many years ago.
  • You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
  • You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
  • You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury.
  • You are infected with HIV.

Over 55 percent of Iowans between the ages 18 and 64 who have HCV live in one of six counties: Polk, Linn, Scott, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, and Black Hawk.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection; today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for 70 to 85 percent of people who become infected with hepatitis C, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C; however, there are highly effective and curative treatments available for hepatitis C with few of the side effects that previous medications had. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs.