A potentially deadly disease is seeing an alarming increase of cases being reported in South Florida.
In fact, cases of hepatitis C have gone up more than 50-percent in Broward County in the past two years alone.
Robert and Maria are two patients of world renowned liver disease specialist, Dr. Eugene Schiff, at his Schiff Center for Liver Diseases at the UM Medical Campus.
They both contracted hepatitis C years ago and quickly learned it can be deadly.
“It might cause cirrhosis. It might cause liver cancer,” Robert said.
Maria described her battle with the sickness, "The last few years like a nightmare. Feeling worse and my liver getting worse.”
Reported cases of hepatitis C are up in South Florida. Way up.
Dr. Schiff said part of the reason why is infected blood shared through needles.
“In recent years we’re seeing in very young people and it’s related to heroin. It’s cheap and plentiful,” he said.
According to the Florida Health Department, reported cases are so high in Broward County that by this time in 2013 there were 443 cases, but in 2015 there’s already been 681 cases. That’s a 53-percent increase. Also in 2012, Broward County saw a total of 1505 cases reported. Two years later in 2014, that yearly total climbed to 2142.
The numbers are also up in Miami-Dade County. In 2012, Miami-Dade County saw 1338 cases. Two years later that number was 1783.
South Florida branches of the state Health Department say hep C is only increasing slightly. And they say the main reason may be due in part to the improvement of the department’s reporting requirements.
But according to the CDC in Atlanta the problem seems worse.
In April, a health advisory was sent out nationally asking all health departments to be aware of hep C outbreaks.
And back in Dr. Schiff’s office, there is a ray of hope because there is a cure available now.
“With what we have now, you can get finite therapy and cure 95-percent of these cases,” Dr. Schiff said.
And Robert and Maria are proof of that. They are both cured.
“It’s so easy get up take a couple pills and live your life,” Robert said.
“I cannot believe I feel so great,” Maria added.
But the reason the cure is not widely prescribed is because it's very expensive.
“If somebody has no insurance right now. They’re not going to get it,” Dr. Schiff said.
Dr. Schiff said even for patients who have insurance, it's tough to get the medication because only the sickest get it first. And it could take years before symptoms become bad enough to warrant the treatment.