Veterans: Get Screened for Hepatitis C

New outreach program seeks to catch those at risk for the contagious virus as early as possible

by Carleen Wild | Updated 15 Feb 2017 at 6:43 AM

You can live for years and not know you’ve got hepatitis C (HCV). Unfortunately, by the time you realize your condition — there could be an incredible amount of damage done.

It is why the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Wilmington Medical Center is asking all enrolled veterans to be screened for the virus.

HCV is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting just a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. Veterans have three times the risk of being infected than those in the general population, according to the VA. Nearly one in 10 Vietnam-era veterans has been diagnosed with it.

A letter was recently sent to those enrolled at the main hospital in Wilmington and each of its five outpatient clinics — in Dover, Delaware; Georgetown, Delaware; and in Vineland, Northfield, and Cape May in New Jersey.

An estimated 2.7 to 3.9 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C, putting them at risk for liver disease, including cirrhosis, liver failure, or even liver cancer.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people born between 1945 and 1965 be tested. The VA is offering testing for all enrolled veterans as a preventive part of their health care.

People can become infected during needle stick injuries in health care settings, sharing blood via a transfusion or a transplant, or even via the needles used for tattoos. Older generations are considered primarily at risk, as none of this was fully realized before 1992.

Babies born to infected mothers can also contract HCV. Sharing needles or razors, or having sexual contact with an infected person, can also put a person at risk.

An estimated 2.7 to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C, putting them at risk for liver disease, including cirrhosis, liver failure, or even liver cancer, the VA stated in a press release, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Related: Blood-Borne Disease Risk

During the first week after the letter was sent, more than 200 new screenings for hepatitis C were completed, Shore News Today in Maryland reported. Three percent of the screenings resulted in new diagnoses of hepatitis C.

The goal is to find patients sooner so that they might avoid chronic, long-term disease.

"The newer drug regimens are much more tolerable than the older interferon-based antiviral treatments," Rena Johnson, a nurse practitioner and hepatitis treatment coordinator at the Wilmington VA Medical Center, told Shore News Today. "We're finding by using newer drugs, we are having very high rates of success curing Hep C, something not possible in the past."

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