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African American leaders sound the alarm on the rise of Hepatitis C

Chris Caya/WBFO News

Healthcare professionals and community leaders in Buffalo are helping to raise awareness about the impact of Hepatitis C in the African American community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 3.5 million Americans have the disease, but most don't know they're infected. The state health department reported 15,000 chronic cases in Erie County in 2010. 

Dr. Raul Vazquez says he thinks the numbers are underreported. Hepatitis C is spread through contaminated blood and Vazquez says more people are getting infected because of an increase in heroin use and dirty tattoo needles.

"Tattoos that are being put on by individuals that are not following sterile procedure is what I worry most about, in addition to the IV drug use," Vazquez said Tuesday.

Speakers highlighted the need for greater testing, particularly among Baby Boomers. Rev. Frank Bostic, Affiliate Chair with The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc. of Buffalo says nationally, the rise of Hepatitis C-related deaths in African American born between 1945 and 1965 is outpacing AIDS-related deaths in the same demographic. 

If untreated, Hepatitis C can cause chronic liver disease and cancer.

National African American Hepatitis C Action Day will be held on July 25. Officials say they hope to increase public awareness of the issue in the coming weeks.