Viral hepatitis is known as the silent epidemic, because it is a disease that is both under-recognized and underdiagnosed. Hepatitis can result from infection with several different viruses, including hepatitis C virus (HCV). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 3.2 million people are chronically infected with HCV and that nearly half are unaware of their infection. Untreated, hepatitis C infection can lead to liver cancer and death; yet, we have more tools than ever before to respond successfully to this epidemic. The availability of expanded coverage for preventive screening for hepatitis C under the Affordable Care Act and new therapies with cure rates over 90% are galvanizing consumer and provider awareness of this important public health issue. One of the four goals of the national Viral Hepatitis Action Plan seeks to improve HCV testing and linkage to care for the estimated millions of Americans who are living with undiagnosed hepatitis C. The plan also seeks to ensure that individuals, who have been previously diagnosed with HCV— but are not in care— take steps to prevent damage from chronic, untreated HCV infection.
Sadly, many Americans—including some providers—lack up-to-date information about hepatitis C. However, increasingly, there are on-line and other resources that can provide basic information to consumers who want to know more about the diagnosis and treatment of HCV. One such example is the Help-4-Hep line which offers free, confidential peer counseling from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM (EST) Monday through Friday. The toll-free number is 877-Help-4-Hep (877-435-7443).
Help-4-Hep is a non-profit peer-to-peer helpline for people affected by hepatitis C. When you call Help-4-Hep, you’ll speak one-on-one with a counselor, usually someone who has been personally affected by hepatitis C. Help-4-Hep counselors can help answer questions such as where to get tested, how to prevent transmitting hepatitis C to others, what treatments are available, and more. Help-4-Hep also provides many resources through the Support Partnership, a network of nationally recognized nonprofits with extensive experience in hepatitis C support, education, testing, treatment, and advocacy.
In addition to the helpline, Help-4-Hep, in partnership with Self Care Catalysts, has developed a free web and mobile app, released on May 19, 2015, National Hepatitis Testing Day. The app is part of Self Care Catalyst’s Health Storylines platform, which can help people improve self-care and better manage chronic conditions. The app provides several tools, including options to track symptoms, nutrition and mood; document emotions about living with hepatitis C; and ways to log lab results. The mobile app is available for download directly from the Help4Hep.org website: www.help4hep.org/app/“This type of service, available free of charge, with informed hepatitis C peer counselors and a database of referral resources for callers is a practical, helpful way to increase access to information, testing, care, and treatment for hepatitis C,” noted Corinna Dan, RN, MPH, Viral Hepatitis Policy Advisor at OHAIDP.
A Resource for Patients, Family, and Healthcare Providers
If you have friends, family members, or colleagues who are looking for more information about HCV, please tell them about Help-4-Hep and their online resources—materials such as brochures, posters, and media kits, and the newly released app. Health care providers can also share the app with patients, especially those who are recently diagnosed with hepatitis C. Help-4-Hep offers support for people with questions about hepatitis C as well as the healthcare providers who serve them.