NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Department of Health has issued a public health advisory after Hepatitis C cases in the state tripled over the last seven years.
The department urges residents to increase their awareness about the life-threatening disease spread by direct contact with blood from an infected person.
Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH said the increasing number of cases may only represent “the tip of the iceberg.”
MORE: Hepatitis C FAQ
“In addition to reported cases of acute Hepatitis C, it is estimated that more than 100,000 Tennesseans may be living with chronic Hepatitis C and not know it,” he said. “Many people have Hepatitis C for years, not realizing it, while the viral infection slowly destroys their livers.”
At this time, there is not a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C. Many can fully recover after infection, but 70 to 80 percent will develop a long-term infection. And despite treatment, a person can be infected again.
Early symptoms can include fatigue, abdominal pain, itching and dark urine.
Health officials said most of the increase in transmission of Hepatitis C in Tennessee is due to the sharing of contaminated needles and syringes among intravenous drug users who are abusing both legal and illegal pain medicines.
Clayton Barnes contracted the disease last year after using an unclean syringe.
He began treatment and has been clear of any sign of Hepatitis C for about six months.
Barnes, who has now been clean and sober for three months, wants to help others who suffer from addiction and the health issues that come along with drug use.
“There is hope out there,” Barnes told News 2. “There’s not just a cure for Hepatitis C, but there’s a cure for addiction.”
Barnes is now working at Addiction Campuses, where many addicts are high-risk for contracting Hepatitis C.
The number for the Addiction Campus of America hotline is 888-614-2251.