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.
Terry Losh says
Hep C is most commonly transmitted by blood transfusion. Anyone that received blood,
particularly prior to 1979, should be screened. It CAN be cured in 50~80% of the cases while lack of treatment can lead to terrible diseases of the liver.
Elizabeth Vencill, MHA, MBA, CLS, MT(ASCP)SLScmPBTcm says
The 2007-2008 Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury addressed the issue of Needle Exchange in Stanislaus County. Specifically, it recommended the County Board of Supervisors develop a needle exchange program for the prevention of Hepatitis C, AIDS, HIV infection, and other blood-borne pathogen diseases due to dirty needle use among drug addicts. Levels of infection were known to the County Health Department at that time, and are referred to in that report. The County Board of Supervisors rejected the Grand Jury’s recommendations. This issue bears exploring once again by the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury. How many blood-borne disease infections could have been prevented by Supervisors’ action then that people of the county must suffer now for neglect of scientific data and this recommendation for preventative measures? One is too many.
Hepatitis C is no longer a significant threat to persons who receive blood transfusions. All donated units of blood are specifically tested for HIV, Hepatitis A virus, Hepatitis B Virus, Hepatitis C virus, and many, many other organisms that are of concern to recipients, physicians and the larger community and world. The donated blood supply in the United States is the safest it has ever been. No one should fear the necessity of receiving a transfusion today. For a transfusion to be contemplated by the physician, a patient must be quite badly in need of that support.
Before making blanket statements about the transfusion blood supply and blood-borne pathogen infection rates among transfusion recipients, I suggest one study the American Association of Blood Banking Website, the transfusion standards text book, called The Technical Manual by AABB, that we, the Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) community, operate under all across the country and throughout the world, and the American Red Cross’s website.
The article in The Valley Citizen above has such terrible misinformation about blood transfusions that it amounts to fear-mongering.