The northern San Joaquin Valley has long been a hot spot for methamphetamine use and addiction, prime risk factors for viral Hepatitis. Nationwide, health experts are increasingly alarmed about what they claim is the hidden epidemic of viral Hepatitis, or Hepatitis C. In Stanislaus County, reports of Hepatitis C fluctuate wildly, from lows of 234 cases in 2007 to 778 cases in 2008. There is at present no systematic way of accounting for the prevalence of Hepatitis C in our region except to note we are doubtless a hot spot. The current tattoo craze has exacerbated the problem. As a former Claims Representative with the Social Security Administration, Bruce Frohman has firsthand local knowledge about Hepatitis C. Here’s his report.
In the Great Valley of California, we periodically find something new to worry about. Given the increasing frequency of its occurence, Hepatitis C is on the radar screen of public health officials.
Hepatitis C is a virus that typically causes cirrhosis of the liver. Untreated, it can cause death. The virus can be controlled with medications, but there is no known cure. One of the primary means of contracting Hepatitis C is through the use of unsanitary needles.
In Stanislaus County, two sources of unsanitary needles are commonly found. Needles used to shoot heroin are often shared by infected drug addicts. Some tattoo parlours do not adequately sterilize their needles–a higher sterilization temperature is needed because a virus is more difficult to kill.
Like the shingles virus, the Hepatitis C virus can stay dormant for many years. What activates the virus is not known. However, there is a correlation between a weakened immune system and the onset of active Hepatitis C. A weakened immune system is usually found among those infected with Aids, the elderly, and those who contract some other serious illness.
As a former Claims Representative with the Social Security Administration, this writer took numerous applications for disability benefits from individuals who had Hepatitis C. Aside from former drug users and individuals with Aids, the virus occasionally flares up in U.S. military veterans who had gotten tattoos while in the service years earlier. Infected citizens within the younger generation did not turn up with Hepatitis C unless they had Aids or another concurrent immunodeficiency.
As drug use and tattoos are both commonly found in Stanislaus County, it follows that we can expect Hepatitis C to turn into an epidemic. The present tattoo fad within the younger generation, combined with the large number of professional and do-it-yourself amateur tattoo artists, we may expect a Hepatitis C epidemic in our local future.
Public health officials try to educate the public and encourage needle exchange programs. However, many young people don’t think to ask whether needles are adequately sterilized and do not find out that they are infected until years later.
Scientists do not know everything there is to know about Hepatitis C. It is not believed to be contagious from casual contact. However, given the frequently lengthy period of dormancy between the inadvertent injection of the virus and the manifestation of symptoms, there is still much to be learned about the virus.
The best way to avoid Hepatitis C is to avoid the risky behavior that can expose a person to it. For many, the damage has already been irreversibly done. An injected virus cannot be removed. For those thinking about engaging in the tattoo craze, consider the risk before you decide how important it is to be a conformist. For those who do drugs, Hepatitis C is one more reason to quit or to not get started in the first place.