Health

Hepatitis: An Epidemic With a Cure

Despite being a treatable and potentially curable illness, hepatitis infects a large enough population to constitute an epidemic.

Hepatitis — a virus causing chronic flu-like symptoms, jaundice, cirrhosis, liver disease and liver cancer — cripples D.C. with a mortality rate of twice the national average and a prevalence rate of 1.8 times the national average.

According to Dr. Patrick Sullivan of Emory University, a lack of awareness by health providers and the general public is a contributing factor in the problem.

“If people have access to good information, they’ll find a good way to use it, ” he said.

A new, interactive public health website HepVu.org tackles this need by providing state-by-state hepatitis C data visualization through a user-friendly platform intended for health providers, health advocates and residents alike.

“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and Emory wanted to address that there were inadequate data resources for health providers,” said Sullivan, lead scientist on the new website, which he called “a useful tool for understanding how different areas of a community is affected by a particular disease.”

The site is the most recent collaborative product out of Emory. Seven years ago its partnership with Gilead spawned AIDSVu, a parallel effort to make historically limited geographic data for AIDS readily available to the public.

With AIDSVu, users can view AIDS diagnosis rates by geography, race, transmission type, age and income level.

“Both sites will accumulate more data at finer and finer geographic levels so that advocates can use it to improve their testing, treatment, or outreach education programs,” Sullivan said. “Using our filters, health or advocacy organizations can find out which neighborhoods are most at risk and target them with door-to-door campaigns.”

Many advocates additionally use the site to educate local and state policymakers to health trends in their districts.

Sullivan hopes for similar success with HepVu.

“We want HepVu to provide the same accessible and relatable information about Hepatitis to states across the country.”

Depending on the strain, hepatitis can be transmitted sexually or via fecal matter and blood.

The rate of transmission depends on the strain, but populations with higher than average risk include MSM (men who have sex with men) and people who inject drugs.

Those born between 1945 and 1965, or baby boomers, are disproportionately affected by hepatitis C. On average, boomers test positive for the hepatitis C antibody at much higher rates than any other segment, indicating past or current infection.

All baby boomers, even those outside of high-risk populations who never received blood or organ donations prior to 1992, should get tested for hepatitis C. Symptoms can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Vaccines exist for strains A and B.

Hepatitis C is highly treatable and, in many cases, curable. At this point, HepVu only visualizes hepatitis C data, but more data on strains A and B can be found via CDC resources.

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