Amber Bow knew she was sick, but did not seek treatment for hepatitis C for more than two years. She did not realize just how much the virus was affecting her daily health. After completing an eight-week course of treatment in July, Bow said she feels good again.
“You don’t know how bad it makes you feel until you are well again,” Bow said. “I am getting my senses back and remembering what it’s like to live without the virus. You feel good when you get up in the morning.”
University of Louisville Hospital and community partners will be offering free hepatitis C screenings at 13 locations in Louisville and surrounding counties for World Hepatitis Day on Sunday, July 28.
Hepatitis C, a blood-borne illness, is prevalent in the Louisville area. Kentucky has one of the highest hepatitis C infection rates in the United States. Currently, providers are encouraged to test for hepatitis C only in patients with certain risk factors [SEE SIDEBAR: Known risk factors for hepatitis C] or who are from the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964). However, those guidelines may not be leading health care providers to everyone who has the disease.
“A growing body of evidence suggests age and risk-based screening is missing a significant number of people, including children, with hepatitis C infection,” said Barbra Cave, a family nurse practitioner specializing in gastroenterology and hepatology who leads the Hep C Center at UofL Hospital. Cave is helping to organize the local events as part of a global effort by the World Health Organization.
“Up to half of patients who have it may not know they are infected, and people may carry the disease for decades before they have symptoms,” Cave said. “The goal of the World Hepatitis Day screening event is to expand testing and awareness, link more people to curative treatment, and normalize the conversation about hepatitis C. There should be no stigma surrounding hepatitis C. Anyone could have it, including babies.”
Screenings will be offered from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday, July 28, at sites in Louisville and Jefferson, Oldham, Shelby and Bullitt counties in Kentucky and Clark County in Indiana. Screening is done with a simple finger prick and results will be available on site in 20 minutes. Hepatitis C experts will be available at all sites to answer questions and help link those affected by hepatitis C to appropriate care.
Free hepatitis C testing sites on July 28
• Mall St. Matthews (2 sites within the mall), 5000 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, KY 40207
• CVS Pharmacy, 1002 Spring St., Jeffersonville, IN 47130
• CVS Pharmacy, 2169 Midland Trail, Shelbyville, KY 40065
• Southwest Family YMCA, 2800 Fordhaven Road, Louisville, KY 40214
• Walgreens, 5900 Timber Ridge Dr., Prospect, KY 40059
• Walgreens, 12101 Shelbyville Rd., Middletown, KY 40243
• Walgreens, 2360 Stony Brook Dr., Louisville, KY 40220
• Walgreens, 6620 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY 40291
• Walgreens, 4310 Outer Loop, Louisville, KY 40219
• Walgreens, 152 N. Buckman St., Shepherdsville, KY 40165
• Walgreens, 11099 Highway 44E, Mount Washington, KY 40047
• Walgreens, 807 S. Highway 53, LaGrange, KY 40031
• Walgreens, 200 E. Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202
“We have a local goal to decrease the stigma about hepatitis C, and let people know it is easy to test for and treat,” Cave said. “Some may still remember the old days of treating hep C when treatment was difficult, involving a triple therapy with interferon that lasted almost a year and multiple side effects. Not everyone was a candidate for treatment and some patients opted to not get treated at all.
“Today, hepatitis C is easily curable and relatively inexpensive to treat. Common treatments for hep C are one or three pills, once a day, for 8-12 weeks – with minimal side effects. It is covered by almost all insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. Cost and side effects are no longer an excuse to defer treatment.”
Left untreated, the disease can cause major complications. It can cause cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer, and is a leading cause of liver transplant. Hepatitis C may also predispose those infected to diabetes and depression, and has an association with joint pain, certain skin disorders and lymphoma.
Partners with UofL Hospital in the screening event include the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness, the Kentucky Department of Public Health, KentuckyOne Health, Volunteers of America, the Sullivan University College of Pharmacy, the nursing programs of Galen University and Bellarmine University, and University of Louisville Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry and Public Health and Information Sciences, as well as generous sponsors, including Abbvie.
Known risk factors for hepatitis C
• Born between 1945 and 1965
• A blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992
• Had blood filtered by a machine (hemodialysis) for a long period of time because kidneys were not working
• IV drug use at any point in life, even just once
• Intranasal drug use at any point in life
• HIV or hepatitis B infection
• Health care workers exposed to blood through a needle stick or other contact with blood or bodily fluids
• Exposure to contaminated tattoo equipment, including ink
• Men who have sex with other men
• Prior military service: “Older veterans are particularly at risk due to the use of the old ‘jet gun’ vaccinators by the military and from combat injuries requiring blood transfusion,” Cave said.
Contaminated dental equipment, such as that used before most items were single patient/single use, may also have spread hepatitis C, and Cave said the virus can live on a surface for six weeks if not sterilized properly.