SARASOTA – More than three million Americans have a potentially fatal disease, and about half of them don’t know they’re living with it.

“In the last three and a half years we’ve probably cured over 500,000 Americans who had Hepatitis C,” says Dr. Douglas Dieterich, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Liver Diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine.

That’s the good news, but Dr. Dieterich says Hepatitis C, a liver destroying infection, is on the rise. The CDC reports new cases have nearly tripled in the past five years.

“New hepatitis cases in the last few years are up and astounding 500% and that’s virtually all due to this opioid epidemic,” says Dieterich.

Since heroin users share needles, doctors are seeing more overdoses, infections, and as a result Hep C.

“The most common symptom is no symptoms,” says Dieterich. He says there’s a 99 % cure rate, but most people don’t even know they have Hepatitis C until serious damage is done.

Including Bob Rice, who went 15 years before being diagnosed. “As the years went by I got sicker and sicker, and at one point I thought I was gonna die,” he says.

That’s because treatment in the 90’s wasn’t so successful. “I ended up with cirrhosis and in 2010 I had a liver transplant,” says Rice.

In 2014, rice was cured, thanks to the successful treatment options we have today. But with the opioid epidemic on the rise, Hep C is on the rise, and it’s one of the leading infectious disease killers.

Dieterich says you should get tested once a year.

Rice says HepCHope is a good website to get educated. “Get educated, get testing, get cured,” he says.