At Risk: Veterans Test Positive for Hepatitis C
Veterans News Report
Each hour of every day, three people die from Hepatitis C or its related conditions. Two of three people have military backgrounds. A study by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) involving 26,000 veterans showed that up to 10% of all veterans in the VHA system tested positive for hepatitis C, while the infection rate on the general population is only 1.8%.
The hepatitis C virus is a blood borne disease that attacks the liver. In 85% of the cases, the infection will last a lifetime. This puts a person at risk for developing cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and even death. Many people don’t know they are infected because there are no symptoms at first. However, hepatitis C can slowly progress to cirrhosis over many years.
Many ways of getting infected have been identified. Combat and even military training often bring soldiers into contact with blood. Exposures to bleeding wounds or transfusions are ways you may become infected. Tattoos, sexual contact, or injection or snorting of drugs are other possible risks.
Of the total number of persons who were hepatitis C antibody positive, and reported an era of service, 62.7% were from the Vietnam war. The second most frequent group is listed as post-Vietnam at 18.2%, followed by 4.8% Korean conflict, 4.3% post-Korean conflict, 4.2% from World War II and 2.7% Persian Gulf era veterans. It has been estimated that at least 36,000 soldiers transfused in Vietnam received infected blood.
Typical symptoms are abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weight loss, and sometimes yellowing of the skin and eyes. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. However, 75% of infected persons may have no symptoms at all.
If you have hepatitis C, there are important things you can do to help prevent spreading hepatitis C to your loved ones and other individuals. Unfortunately, most of the 4 million Americans infected have not been diagnosed, and thus do not know that they have hepatitis C. The sooner you know if you are infected, the sooner you can take steps to safeguard your health. You protected your country, now protect yourself if you have hepatitis C. If you have any questions, or want more information about hepatitis C contact your health care professional, or your VA medical center.
This information has been presented by The American Legion in conjunction with your local American Legion Post.