LOUISVILLE (WHAS11) – The University of Louisville Hospital opened a new center to treat hepatitis C, a particular problem in Kentucky, which has the highest infection rate in the country.
A ribbon-cutting and open house marked the UofL Hospital Hep C Center’s official opening Wednesday morning and patients are scheduled later in the day.
“While Kentucky has the highest rate of new hep C cases in the U.S., few places exist here for treatment,” said Barbra Cave, a family nurse practitioner specializing in gastroenterology and hepatology who leads the center. “This is a much-needed service in the community.”
In the past, treating hepatitis C was difficult. It involved a triple therapy with interferons and multiple side effects. Not everyone was a candidate for treatment. Doctors found it challenging, and some patients opted to not get treated at all.
“Many patients were scared off by treatment, knowing it was going to be hard,” Cave said. “Maybe they saw a friend go through it. But we want them to know it’s not hard anymore. We can help so many people.”
Today, treatment is simpler and involves one pill, once a day, for 8-12 weeks. The side effects are minimal, said Ashutosh Barve, M.D., Ph.D., the center’s medical director and a gastroenterologist with the hospital and UofL Physicians. The center also uses FibroScan in their treatments. This treatment allows staff to perform a non-invasive assessment of the liver without operating.
“This is truly a success story of modern medicine,” he said. “We went from discovering the basic science of the disease in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, to finding a cure in 2014.”
Up to half of the patients who have it may not know they are infected with hepatitis C, Cave said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends screening for all baby boomers.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne illness. It could be contracted from a blood transfusion prior to 1992, contaminated tattoo equipment or IV drug use. Older veterans are particularly at-risk due to old “jet gun” vaccinators by the military and combat injuries, Cave said.
Contaminated dental equipment can also spread hepatitis C, and the disease can be passed from mother to baby.
Though hepatitis C is now easily curable with proper treatment, the disease can cause major complications if left untreated. It can cause cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. Hepatitis C may predispose those infected to diabetes and depression, and it has an association with joint pain, regardless of the amount of liver damage.
The center will see patients every weekday, and the hospital expects 2,000 patient visits per year. They do have space to expand as volume grows.
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