Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants in the United States. People born from 1945 through 1965 are 5 times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults.

Hepatitis C disproportionately impacts many communities, including African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, veterans and people who inject drugs. Known as the “silent killer” because it can progress insidiously without symptoms, hepatitis C causes more than 15,000 deaths annually in the United States.

New developments

The good news is that there has never been a more hopeful time in the fight against hepatitis C. We now have the tools necessary to eliminate hepatitis C in the United States. Highly effective treatments are available that cure nearly 100 percent of hepatitis C cases with minimal side effects.

"We need bold leadership from our nation’s leaders to address these challenges if we are to succeed in the goal of eliminating hepatitis C."

Health experts have united around the call for baby boomers and others at risk to be tested for hepatitis C, resulting in many Americans having easier access to screening. Medicare recently announced that hepatitis C testing will be covered as a no-cost preventive service in primary care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a comprehensive educational campaign called “Know More Hepatitis” that urges baby boomers to be tested. Meanwhile, the federal government’s Viral Hepatitis Action Plan has brought together representatives from several agencies and departments to expand hepatitis C prevention, testing, care and treatment services.

Obstacles

However, there continues to be significant challenges to ending the hepatitis C epidemic in the United States. The stigma associated with hepatitis C and drug use hampers efforts to spread awareness and encourage those at risk to be tested. Many insurers are denying hepatitis C treatment to people without advanced disease and those with a history of substance abuse, placing lives at risk and missing an opportunity to cure everyone living with the disease.

There has been an alarming increase in recent hepatitis C infections among young people who are injecting opioids. We need bold leadership from our nation’s leaders to address these challenges if we are to succeed in the goal of eliminating hepatitis C.

I strongly encourage you to take action in the fight against hepatitis C. If you were born from 1945 through 1965, or if you have any of the other risk factors, ask your doctor for a hepatitis C test. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. Ask your elected representatives to support increased funding and to cosponsor the Viral Hepatitis Testing Act, legislation that would expand testing services. Together, we can end the silence around hepatitis C and save lives.