More than 44,000 Long Islanders are infected with the hepatitis C virus and seven out of 10 of them are unaware that they are living with the disease. What’s worse, experts believe those numbers will increase.
An increase in heroin use, silent symptoms and a rise in baby boomers settling across the region are all responsible for the increase in hepatitis C cases on the Island, say doctors.
“The baby boomers [those born between 1946 and 1964] are most at risk,” Dr. Melissa Palmer, a Plainview-based hepatitis expert told Metro. “A lot of people were infected during the wild ’60s, experimenting with intravenous drugs and having multiple sex partners without using protection. I have patients who tried something once at a party 40 years ago that’s coming back to haunt them now.”
“But that doesn’t mean the younger population shouldn’t be worried,” she added. “I see an increase in IV drug use in people between 18 and 19 years old. It could be the heroin epidemic or getting a piercing or a tattoo in an unclean environment.”
“I believe that 44,000 may actually be an underestimate,” said Palmer. “If you take into consideration that hepatitis is not part of a panel of routine tests. It’s frightening, to say the least.”
Dr. David Bernstein, chief of gastroenterology and pathology at the North Shore University Medical Center and Long Island Jewish Hospital said Long Islanders shouldn’t be worried, but concerned.
“Hepatitis C doesn’t have symptoms. People with the virus feel fine and are living normally,” said Bernstein. “The important thing is to get tested. Ask your doctor. It’s a simple blood test.”