ASG Addresses Concern of Hepatitis C in Charlottesville Communit - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

ASG Addresses Concern of Hepatitis C in Charlottesville Community

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AIDS/HIV Services Group in Charlottesville AIDS/HIV Services Group in Charlottesville

New numbers from Charlottesville's AIDS/HIV Services Group shows that cases of hepatitis C are just as much of a concern as HIV cases, and health professionals are paying close attention to older adults when it comes to that infection.

Hepatitis C may not get people's attention in the same way that HIV or AIDS does. But experts say it's not something to take lightly, and if untreated or undiagnosed for an extended period of time, it can be deadly.

As Charlottesville's AIDS/HIV Services Group (ASG) addresses the community impact of HIV and AIDS, it faces another challenge: CEO Peter DeMartino says the rates of hepatitis C are 10 times higher among people the group has tested than HIV rates.

For the past six months, ASG has been providing rapid hepatitis C testing as part of a pilot program. Community-based testing is still a fairly new initiative for the commonwealth, so ASG expected to see undiagnosed and untreated cases.

“And because there can be so few symptoms associated with chronic hepatitis C infection, so many people don't even realize that they might be infected and may have been for years," DeMartino said.

The primary risk for being exposed to hepatitis C is blood-to-blood contact, including injecting legal or illegal substances. When it comes to Charlottesville, there's a difference in the populations impacted by hepatitis C as opposed to HIV.

"With HIV we're so concerned about the youth because that's where most of the infections are,” DeMartino said. “But with hep C, we're really looking at baby boomers, we're looking at folks in their mid- to late 50s, 60s, 70s. That's really where there's pockets of the virus that have never been discovered."

Liver scarring can happen with chronic infection and, if untreated or undiagnosed, hepatitis C can lead to complete liver failure.

"Even though treatment is difficult right now, it's still better to know because there are so many co-occurring conditions that we can manage better,” DeMartino said.

ASG says about 2 percent of all of the hepatitis C tests it has been performing have come back positive.

Along with testing, the organization provides services to help people deal with some of the emotional and mental health issues that can come with treatment.

Testing for hepatitis C requires a finger-stick blood sample. You can make an appointment online or contact the testing coordinator at ASG at 434-979-7714.

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