New screening protocols are identifying many new cases of hepatitis C.
Doctors in the emergency department at UAB Hospital have identified 2,436 patients with the liver disease hepatitis C since they began widespread testing in 2013, including an alarming number of young injection drug users.
Hepatitis C is a viral liver disease that is usually spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. The virus attacks the liver and can cause inflammation, scarring and cancer. Some patients with untreated hepatitis C could require liver transplants. In 2013, pharmaceutical companies introduced drugs that eliminate the disease in a majority of patients.
Soon after UAB began screening, doctors noticed that patients identified as high-risk were testing positive almost four times more often than the national average, said Dr. James Galbraith, a professor in UAB’s department of emergency medicine.
Rates were even higher among uninsured patients and those on Medicaid.
“What that points to is a lack of prior preventative primary care,” he said. “These patients were not being offered screening previously. We’re identifying them now, and now there is a cure.”
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