Source: The News-Enterprise
A new clinic geared toward bringing more awareness and treatment to hepatitis C has opened at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown.
Laura Buchanan, HMH gastroenterologist and clinic provider, said Kentucky leads the nation in hepatitis C infection rate. To help combat the rising cases of hepatitis C, Hardin Memorial Health recently opened its Complex Care Clinic in the hospital to serve patients with the disease.
“This is an epidemic and our new clinic provides treatment services our region desperately needs,” she said.
Hepatitis C is the most common form of viral hepatitis in the United States. In 2013, it accounted for approximately 19,000 deaths per year, a number that was greater than that of 60 other nationally notifiable infectious diseases combined, a May 12, 2017, Centers for Disease Control Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report said.
According to the CDC, hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks – acute – to a serious, longer illness – chronic – that attacks the liver.
Jenny Whitsell, the APRN at the clinic, said she wants people to realize they can get treatment locally for their hepatitis C. They do not have to travel to Louisville or Lexington.
“We want patients to understand that treatment now is much shorter and more effective,” she said. “In the past, treatment was more cumbersome. People had to do it for months and months and months, (there were) several medications. There were several side-effects. Now, you don’t have that.”
Whitsell said now patients can be treated in about 12 weeks, depending on the severity of their disease. She said today’s treatment is just a pill patients take at home.
“If you do what you are supposed to do, 90 percent of the people are cured the first time they are treated,” she said.
Whitsell said hepatitis C usually is spread when blood from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.
Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, hepatitis C also was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants, Whitsell said.
“A population that we are focusing on are the baby boomers, people born in that 1945 to 1965 year range,” she said. “That was a time when things weren’t sterilized like they are today.
“Lot’s of people don’t even know they have hep c and don’t even know how they got it,” she added. “Maybe they got a blood transfusion, maybe they had a dental procedure, whatever, they don’t know.”
Whitsell said three in four patients with hepatitis C were born are baby boomers.
“People think it is just the drug epidemic but it’s not,” she said.
Buchanan said by the time symptoms of the infection appear, liver damage often is advanced.
“In some cases, hepatitis C can be asymptomatic for years, even decades. Left untreated, it can cause liver damage, liver cancer and even death,” she said. “Thankfully, there is a cure and the HMH Complex Care Clinic specializes in and offers all hep c treatments.
According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as many as 3.5 million Americans and more than 56,000 Kentucky residents may have chronic hepatitis C.
The CDC said people can become infected with the hepatitis C virus during such activities as sharing needles, syringes or other equipment to inject drugs; needlestick injuries in health care settings; or, being born to a mother who has hepatitis C.
Less commonly, CDC said a person can also get the hepatitis C virus through sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes; and, having sexual contact with a person infected with the hepatitis C virus.
In addition to treatment for the virus, the new clinic can provide patients with comprehensive primary care services.
“The Complex Care Clinic will do what the name implies: Care for the whole patient and provide everything needed for those with complicated illnesses,” Buchanan said.
HMH’s Complex Care Clinic opened its doors Dec. 8. In the month they have been in operation, Whitsell said she has seen an excitement in those who come in.
“People are excited because there is a local treatment option, and they are excited because they have this awful disease and they get to be cured,” she said.
For any person concerned about whether or not they have hepatitis C, Whitsell they should ask their primary care provider to be screened.
“If they are positive, come see us and we will get them treated as quickly and as effectively as we can,” she said.
The clinic is located on the hospital’s main campus, off of Woodland Drive.
Mary Alford can be reached at 270-505-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.