What is Hepatitis C? Black people and liver disease, what you need to know

Hepatitis C virus. | Source: BSIP/Getty

NOT33 years ago, a collective of scientists conducting research at a biotechnology company nestled in Emeryville, California discovered the existence of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Since this groundbreaking discovery was made, the disease has become the deadliest infectious disease in America.

For the black community, the systemic racial inequalities that permeate the country’s healthcare system have exacerbated its harmful impact. Research shows that African Americans are twice as likely to be infected with hepatitis C compared to the general US population and were less likely to be treated for the virus. Over the past few decades, steps have been taken to promote early detection and improve the responsiveness of medical treatment for people of color, however, changing the narrative begins with awareness.


Hepatitis C is classified as a virus that triggers liver infections. It is mainly transmitted by exposure to blood containing the virus. According to Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention, hepatitis C encompasses a spectrum of infection ranging from mild illness to long-lasting illness. Acute hepatitis C is a short-lived illness that occurs within the first six months of transmission. Symptoms to understand jaundice, defined as yellowing of the skin, discoloration of urine and stools, nausea and pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. When detected early, it can significantly reduce the risk of chronic infection.

Chronic hepatitis C is on the long-term side of the spectrum and in many cases can serve as a prelude to cancer of the liver and bile ducts. The form of the virus progresses silently as many people may not experience symptoms for decades until they develop complications from liver scarring. Studies show that more than half of people who get hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection.

Grammy Award-winning Natalie Cole speaks at the National...

Grammy Award winner Natalie Cole speaks about hepatitis C at the National Press Club in Washington, DC in 2011. Cole was diagnosed with the disease in 2008. | Credit: Stephen J. Boitano/Getty

The groups those most vulnerable to the virus include people with HIV infection and those who share needles or other devices to inject drugs. Babies born to mothers who carry the virus can contract it during childbirth. Healthcare workers are also at risk of infection as they are subjected to needlestick injuries in the workplace.

Lower risks of transmission include sexual contact with someone infected with hepatitis C, sharing personal items – such as razors and toothbrushes – that may be exposed to blood contamination, and get tattooed and pierced in unsanitary spaces. People who had blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992 are also at risk of infection due to the complexity of blood screening methods decades ago.

Dr Alana Biggersan ABMS board-certified internal medicine physician who is also an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, told NewsOne that amplifying information related to the virus is key to saving Lives.

“Awareness is very important because it’s another preventative measure,” Dr. Biggers explained. “The recommendations have changed over the last couple of years or so. When I started as a doctor, the recommendation was that members of the war baby generation get tested for hepatitis C, but looking at the data, they saw that young people were also getting hepatitis C, mainly because of the ongoing opioid crisis. over the past two decades. If you are an adult, you should get tested at least once in your life. If you are someone who uses injection drugs or any other type of paraphernalia, you should get tested more often.

When it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C, the rules of the game are far from level. Although some progress has been made in creating culturally appropriate medical treatment, African Americans are most at risk and have a significantly higher rate of infection and death due to hepatitis C and its related problems.


Similar to other viruses and diseases that Americans face, hepatitis C is not omitted to disproportionately and devastatingly affect the black community. A study found that African Americans account for about 20% to 23% of diagnosed hepatitis C infections despite making up only 13% of the US population. In 2019, chronic liver disease was among the first cause of death among blacks aged 45 to 64.

In terms of access to care, socio-economic barriers can define an individual’s destiny. Dr. Biggers explained that the reasons for the disproportionate impact are multifactorial. “These reasons include lack of health insurance resulting in reduced access to health care, lower rates of testing, and reduced access to doctors who treat hepatitis,” she told NewsOne. “Additionally, black communities are twice as likely to be uninsured or have Medicaid. Hepatitis C treatment options are more likely to be declined by Medicaid insurers. Lack of access to health care can lead to lack of access to appropriate treatment. Dr. Biggers also noted that African Americans have always been deemed ineligible for hepatitis C treatments for no good reason, because they have the same risk factors as everyone else. She believes that tackling discrimination and bias within the healthcare system will change alarming trends.

This illustration photo shows a disposable syringe with...

Source: Frank Bienewald/Getty

The disparities don’t stop at trying to get a foot in the door for life-saving treatment. Historically, there have been racial gaps in responsiveness to medicine. Studies To display while other racial groups typically achieve a sustained virologic response after eight weeks of treatment, African Americans typically require 12 weeks. Further research revealed that 87.8% of blacks achieved SVR12, compared to 92.4% of whites.

In recent years, medical innovation has been a driving force in the creation of fair, effective and efficient treatments. “Some of the early Hep C drugs were generally bad. They didn’t really cure a lot of people, and it seemed like it was even worse in the African-American community,” Dr. Biggers shared. new direct-acting antivirals that can cure hepatitis C in more than 90% of people Cure rates are the same regardless of race or ethnicity with new antiviral drugs.


Extensive research focused on treatment and health outcomes has helped advance solutions to help individuals manage hepatitis C. HCV is curable when treated with a new antiviral drug.

“People take these drugs for 8 to 24 weeks or usually 8 to 12 weeks,” Dr. Biggers said. “If a person has liver damage caused by scarring, called cirrhosis, or previous treatment for hepatitis C, the doctor will also check the genotype of the virus – a type of hepatitis C infection – to determine how long treatment.”

She added that there are several preventative measures one can take to avoid getting hepatitis C, including not sharing needles, other drug equipment or personal items and getting tattoos or piercings. the body in clean environments by professionals using sterile tools and unopened ink. She also stressed the importance of wearing gloves if you come into contact with someone else’s blood or open wounds.

Healthcare professionals like Dr. Biggers and others who use their platforms to evoke transformative change within medicine are helping to raise collective awareness of hepatitis C and its effects. Overall, she believes reversing the staggering impact of hepatitis C on communities of color starts with early diagnosis. “People should make sure they are tested for hepatitis C,” she explained. “Getting an early diagnosis can lead to better treatment options that can help cure hepatitis C.”


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