Saturday, December 2, 2017

U of L opens clinic to treat hepatitis C, a disease for which Kentucky has the nation's highest rate of new cases

The University of Louisville Hospital has opened a new center to treat hepatitis C and expects to have more than 2,000 patient visits in its first year, according to a U of L news release.

“While Kentucky has the highest rate of new hep-C cases in the U.S., few places exist here for treatment,” Barbra Cave, a family nurse practitioner who leads the center, said in the release. “This is a much-needed service in the community.”

In the past, treating hepatitis C involved a year-long therapy that came with multiple side effects, and not everyone was a candidate for treatment. "Doctors found it challenging, and some patients opted to not get treated at all," says the release.

But today, treatment involves one pill, once a day for eight to 12 weeks, and has minimal side effects, according to Dr. Ashutosh Barve, the center’s medical director. The center also uses FibroScan, which allows staff to perform a non-invasive assessment of the liver without a biopsy, says the release.

“This is truly a success story of modern medicine. We went from discovering the basic science of the disease in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, to finding a cure in 2014,” said Barve, a gastroenterologist.

The treatment is not inexpensive. It runs between $32,000 and $56,000 on most health plans, Dr. John Ward, director of the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a conference in Lexington in July.

New cases of hepatitis C are largely driven by intravenous drug use, but many "Baby Boomers" have the disease and don't know it, and both groups should be routinely screened for it. It is estimated that up to half of people with the disease don't know they are infected.

“People may carry the disease for decades before they have symptoms,” said Cave, who specializes in gastroenterology and hepatology.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can live on a surface for weeks if not sterilized properly. It can cause major complications if left untreated, including cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.

The disease can be contracted from contaminated tattoo equipment, contaminated dental equipment or passed on from mother to baby. Cave says anyone who got a blood transfusion prior to 1992 or older veterans who were vaccinated with a "jet gun" are also at risk.

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