POSTED: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 11:39am
UPDATED: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 9:23am
UPPER VALLEY — More than 3 million people in the U.S. are infected with Hepatitis C, and many aren't even aware of it.
In the acute infection, which takes hold within the first 6 months of exposure...signs of fever, a yellowing of the skin and abdominal pain may be present.
"For the most part patients are asymptomatic...meaning they have no symptoms until they develop the chronic form of the disease," said Dr. Martha Cano from Valley Care Clinics in Weslaco.
Anyone born between the years of 1946 and the mid 60's (the baby boomers) are more at risk of having contracted the virus, because blood products and organs were not tested for Hepatitis C before that time.
"Unbeknownst to them they were exposing themselves to the disease," said Dr. Cano.
The Texas Department of State Health Services says that in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties combined, there are around 18,000 people living with the virus.
Although Dr. Cano says she hasn't seen an increase in the diagnosis of Hepatitis C in the Valley, she says that after the public receives education on the identifying factors, those numbers could rise.
"If they can identify themselves as having risk factors, then they too can come to their doctor and be screened and be diagnosed."
Hepatitis C causes anywhere from 8 to 10,000 deaths per year.