DES MOINES, Iowa –People diagnosed with Hepatitis C still face a stigma associated with the virus that infects the liver, but doctors want to change that and raise awareness about the disease that can be cured.
Dale Kenyon lived for years with a virus inside his body. "Back then, Hepatitis C was like a dirty secret that you really didn't talk a lot about,” he said.
He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which infects the liver but affects the entire body when he was nineteen. It is spread through the blood.
"Historically it's been spread by blood transfusions or blood product transfusions before 1990. More recently the most common way it's spread is IV drug use. Here in the state of Iowa, the new cases of Hep C under the age of 30 has quadrupled in the last eight years," said Medical Director of the UnityPoint Center for Liver Disease Dr. Donald Hillebrand.
Dr. Hillebrand said the increase in the younger population is because of the opioid epidemic. He said it's important for people with risk factors to be screened, including those born between 1945 and 1965 because of blood transfusions. "Most people with Hep C don't know they have it. They're asymptomatic. Symptoms don't typically develop for one to two decades. It's just there in the background,” said Dr. Hillebrand.
He said early detection can save lives. Hepatitis C can be cured through treatment. "The majority of people can be treated for 8 weeks. Here at the Center for Liver Disease, we've cured almost 97 percent of the people we've treated." The center has cured three hundred people in the last four years with antiviral medication.
Kenyon is one of those patients. He said, "I'm alive and happy. I feel, life is different now. I feel like my purpose is to try and give back."
Hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, if left untreated. Specialists say to talk to your provider about getting screened for the virus.