VA Maryland Health Care System
Health Watch: Fall Winter 2017-2018
Hepatitis C Treatment Works!
There's good news and great news. The good news is that the VA Maryland Health Care System is urging Baby Boomers to get screened for Hepatitis C, a viral infection that attacks the liver — but often has no symptoms. The great news is that treatment options work!
For those who have Hepatitis C, treating it is easier and more successful than in years past, and now testing is recommended for those born between 1945 and 1965 and for those who ever shared a needle to inject drugs—even if only once.
"People could have Hepatitis C for decades and not know it," says Dr. Eleanor Wilson, Director of the Hepatitis C Clinic at the VA Maryland Health Care System and Infectious Disease Specialist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Despite the lack of symptoms, Hepatitis C slowly causes scarring of the liver. As scarring accumulates, it leads to cirrhosis—or a complete scarring of the liver, which can lead to liver cancer. "Hepatitis C causes more cirrhosis than alcoholism," Wilson said.
Yolanda Flores, the Hepatitis C Clinic Coordinator at the VA Maryland Health Care System, says stigma plays a large role by inhibiting people from getting screened. "People know that Hep C is spread through drugs and sex, but not that it is spread through so many other ways. Ear piercing with a non-sterilized device is a way it can be spread," she said. "Just being a Baby Boomer is a risk factor," she added. "Baby Boomers do need to be screened, regardless of risk factors," she said.
In the recent past, there was a lack of approved treatments—so it was given only to those in dire need or who struggled with other diseases. Now things have changed. New drugs are effective with minimal to mild side effects. The goal is to treat everyone with Hepatitis C.
"Now, Hepatitis C can be treated and cured," Wilson said.
Veterans who are Baby Boomers are urged to get screened for Hepatitis C by calling 410-605-7194, and press option 3. "They can leave a message and we will call them back," Wilson said.
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