Did you know that Hepatitis C (HCV) is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S., with an estimated cost of $600,000 per patient? Or how about the fact that HCV is largely asymptomatic until severe liver damage has occurred? Between 2.7 and 5 million people live with chronic HCV in the U.S., and up to 60 percent of affected patients are unaware of the infection.
The prevalence of this disease has created an ongoing dialogue around renewed interest in patients with Hepatitis C. However, understanding the transmission of this often silent disease is the biggest struggle. For example, it is somewhat unclear why baby boomers have higher rates of HCV. Many boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s. This has even included well-known celebrities, from the late Evel Knievel to Pamela Anderson and Steven Tyler.
Because HCV is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person, celebrities and other boomers may have been exposed to contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply in 1992. Others may have become infected from injecting drugs, even if only once, as well as the unsafe needle practices of tattoo artists as a possible source.
How do you know if you need to be screened? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends HCV screenings for any person who fits the following criteria:
- Born between 1945 and 1965
- Have injected illegal drugs
- Recipients of clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
- Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants before July 1992
- Patients who have ever received long-term hemodialysis treatment
- All persons with HIV infection
- Patients with signs or symptoms of liver disease
- Children born to HCV-positive mothers
Unfortunately, adherence by providers to this guideline has been slow. Despite its ever-increasing burden, chronic HCV has not been diagnosed in most Americans with this disease. And what’s worse…even fewer cases have been treated.
The good news is several new treatments are now available that offer patients treatment options that are both shorter and more tolerable, and ultimately for most patients, a cure for the HCV infection.
Want to get involved in this critical work? Through a new collaborative with Dr. Andrew Guir of Duke University’s Gastroenterology and Hepatology research department, we have a unique opportunity to drive better outcomes for patients struggling with this disease. Please contact Jeff Vawter for more information.
Bimal is a practicing physician who is the Service Line Vice President for Premier Research Services. When I am not working, you can see me on the trails with my bicycle or spending time with my daughter. Connect with me on LinkedIn to learn more.
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