Hepatitis C cluster found in Becker, Mahnomen counties possibly caused by needle sharing
An upward trend in the number of Hepatitis C cases reported in Becker and Mahnomen counties this year has drawn the attention of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Ronda Stock, Becker County Community Health supervisor, said that 15 new cases of Hepatitis C had been reported in the two counties this year through the end of September, which is what prompted state public health officials to investigate.
The number of Hepatitis C cases reported in this "cluster" area has been on the rise since 2008, with 44 cases currently identified -- and there may be more going unreported, Stock said.
"Some people don't ever experience symptoms," and thus haven't been tested, Stock explained.
But even if they don't experience symptoms, individuals who have been infected with Hepatitis C may still be a carrier, she added.
"People are infecting others and apparently not even realizing that they're a carrier ... that's the scary part," Stock said. "That's why it's really important to get that education out to the affected communities."
"Local public health's role right now is to provide patient education," she continued.
"Hepatitis C is a blood-to-blood disease," Stock said. What that means is that the disease can only be transmitted through direct blood-to-blood contact -- i.e., you have to get someone's infected blood into your own bloodstream.
"It can be transmitted through people sharing needles and syringes -- that's the primary method," Stock said.
"It's really important to know how not to spread this disease, because it can lead to chronic health conditions such as liver failure... and liver cancer," she added.
And once you have been infected with Hepatitis C, there's no cure.
"Once you have Hepatitis C, you will always have Hepatitis C -- and you will be a carrier," Stock said.
The same is also true for Hepatitis A and B -- but there are vaccines for those strains of the disease, while there is none for Hepatitis C, she cautioned.