JOPLIN, Mo. — Hepatitis C is a dangerous liver infection. A diagnosis complicated by symptoms that can take years to show up.

Left untreated, it can cause serious damage and even lead to liver cancer.

“It’s a new initiative of the state of Missouri, trying to get more and more people cured of hepatitis C since there’s effective treatment available. And, hepatitis C is a very prominent infection which eventually if not treated, can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer,” said Dr. Uwe Schmidt, Infectious Disease Spec.

There’s also the risk of liver failure and a potential need for a liver transplant. Past treatment was complicated and less reliable.

“It did not kill the virus itself. For the last several years we have had drugs available, they’re called directly acting agents, and they can cure the virus very effectively. So you have to take medication between two and three months and you can get rid of the virus,” said Dr. Schmidt.

Plus, a cure rate near 100%.

Many patients don’t even know they’re infected and Missouri state health officials want to change that with a new program to encourage testing among those at risk.

“IV drug use is the number one, and people who have had blood products in the past, mainly before the 1990s, you know? And otherwise, people who have snorted drugs, you know, like cocaine. That can occasionally cause transmission there,” said Dr. Schmidt.

The experts say if a patient thinks they could be at risk, they should get tested.