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Hepatitis C testing shows infection rate of 11 percent

In June 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified 220 counties as at risk for an HIV and hepatitis C outbreak.

In June 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified 220 counties as at risk for an HIV and hepatitis C outbreak.

When Rocco Massey, CEO of Beckley ARH, learned Raleigh County was ranked No. 18 on that list, he was concerned.

He was right to be.

Since the implementation of a grant which allows the hospital to provide testing, 11 percent of the patients tested have tested positive for hepatitis C.

“The national numbers are around 3-5 percent,” Massey said. “We’re coming in at double that.”

Testing is provided for emergency room patients, ages 13 to 64, who receive a blood draw. Patients are informed about the testing, and they are allowed to opt out.

Since testing began Sept. 1, 232 patients have been tested — 52 have been antibody positive (22 percent). The CDC explains that a positive antibody test means that hepatitis C antibodies were found in the blood, and a person has been infected with the hepatitis C virus at some point in time. But a reactive antibody test does not necessarily mean that the person has hepatitis C.

An additional follow-up test (an RNA test) is needed to determine if a person is currently infected. If negative, the person does not have hepatitis C; however, if positive, the person currently has the virus.

Of the 52 who were antibody positive, 50 percent (26 patients) tested RNA positive, meaning they are positive for hepatitis C.

He said the sample size is small, but it will continue to grow. The grant will provide testing for roughly 1,500 people (the annual estimated number of ER patients who draw blood between ages 13 and 64).

For those who test positive, the grant provides the hospital with a patient navigator, who has been on board for the past two weeks.

The navigator will reach out to patients and share with them the importance of follow-up care. Ultimately, the goal is to get them access to care within 72 hours, and for 70 percent of the patients to be linked to care.

“There is an inherent challenge in reaching 100 percent,” explained Jeri Knowlton, West Virginia area marketing manager for ARH. “They may not have a phone number, or give wrong information because they don’t want to be contacted.”

Right now, the hospital is at 38 percent linkage to care.

“We’re going to be their safety net,” Massey said. “We’ve caught this, and we want to either get them to their own primary care doctor, or to one of our primary care doctors, or with our infectious disease specialist, or our gastro doctor, whichever is best indicated.”

After seeing the initial numbers, Massey said he hopes to continue the grant and even expand upon it.

“We’re running at 11 percent right now. That indicates to me we need to continue doing what we’re doing, maybe even expand it over into our outpatient world.”

He said there is danger in not knowing if you’re infected.

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