VA Raises Hepatitis C Awareness
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Did you know that symptoms of hepatitis C could take 20 to 30 years to appear? Hepatitis C is a disease that affects the liver and is spread through contact with infected blood or contaminated needles, tattoo tools, and other means. An estimated four million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with hepatitis C. In some cases, veterans seem to have higher rates of infection than others.

While symptoms are often very mild or non-existent, hepatitis C can be a very serious illness and, over time, cause permanent liver problems including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The liver is one of the largest and most important organs in your body. During National Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) encourages those with one or more risk factors to consider getting tested. Talk with your doctor about being tested for hepatitis C if you:

"¢ have ever used a needle to inject drugs, even if it was many years ago;
"¢ had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992;
"¢ have been on long-term kidney dialysis;
"¢ are a Vietnam veteran;
"¢ have had exposure to blood on your skin;
"¢ have had multiple sex partners;
"¢ have tattoos or body piercings;
"¢ have liver disease;
"¢ have a history of drinking a lot of alcohol; or
"¢ have had an abnormal liver function test
"¢ wish to be tested

The test for hepatitis C is simple and only requires a blood sample.

VA is the largest single provider of medical care to people with hepatitis C infection in the U.S., and is the nation's leader in hepatitis C screening, testing and treatment. VA has a system-wide policy for screening all enrolled veterans for hepatitis C risk factors and has identified approximately 250,000 veterans in the past 10 years who have a diagnosis of or positive blood test for hepatitis C.

VA spent more than $2.4 million on 16 research projects relating to hepatitis C. In addition, VA investigators received $4.1 million from non-VA sources for another 104 studies.

VA funds four Hepatitis C Resource Centers to foster innovation and disseminate best practices in prevention, care and education. They are located in Minneapolis, Minn.; San Francisco, Calif.; West Haven, Conn.; and Seattle, Wash., in collaboration with Portland, Ore.

VA research on hepatitis C includes clinical trials of treatments, epidemiological studies, investigations into the biological mechanisms of infection, and studies on improving quality of life for hepatitis C patients.