You may have seen the ads on TV or read news stories – there are millions of people in the U.S., many of them baby boomers, who suffer from hepatitis C.
According to the N.C. Division of Public Health, diagnosed cases of hepatitis C increased 200 percent in the state between 2012 and 2016. The division estimates that up to 120,000 North Carolinians currently have a chronic form of the liver disease, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids, blood and needles.
Many of these people have had the disease for decades, but since hepatitis C often does not display symptoms for years, they weren't aware that they harbored the virus. Others may have realized they were ill, but the stigma attached to hepatitis C kept them from seeing a doctor.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that anyone born between 1945 and 1965, commonly known as baby boomers, be screened for the virus. However, it is not completely understood why there is such a high rate of hepatitis C infection in this particular population.
In a recent report, CDC suggests boomers could have gotten infected from medical equipment or procedures when they were young, before universal precautions and infection control procedures were adopted. Others could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening virtually eliminated the virus from the blood supply by 1992.
Nowadays, the most common risk factor for contracting the disease is the use of injectable drugs. "Sharing needles or equipment used to prepare or inject drugs, even if only once in the past, could spread hepatitis C," the CDC report adds.
The good news these days is that hepatitis C cannot just be managed; it can be cured. And we at Cape Fear Clinic have treated or are currently treating approximately 50 of our patients, and have the means to cure others who are diagnosed.
Although hepatitis C treatment has been available for decades, the previous treatments required complex regimens of injections and oral medications, which often caused debilitating side effects and resulted in sub-optimal cure rates. The regimens newer to market have revolutionized treatment. With oral medications, taken as infrequently as once daily, patients can expect markedly fewer side effects and cure rates approaching 100 percent with as little as eight to 12 weeks of treatment.
At Cape Fear Clinic, through the use of a collaborative practice protocol, a clinical pharmacist works with primary care providers to manage the care of patients with hepatitis C.
“I am so proud that our organization is able to provide this much-needed service to our community”, says Dr. Jennifer Askew Buxton, Chief Pharmacy Officer at the clinic.
Curing our patients who have chronic hepatitis C is just one more way that heath care services from Cape Fear Clinic can transform lives, helping people re-enter the workforce, care for their families and pursue their dreams. Our low-cost services for those who have no insurance or who qualify for Medicaid keep these people out of the hospital emergency department and launch them on a path to becoming responsible for their own health.
Cape Fear Clinic provides compassionate and affordable patient-centered medical, pharmacy and mental health services to low-income individuals and families in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus counties, regardless of their ability to pay. Visit www.capefearclinic.org
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