World Hepatitis Day is reminder to screen, treat baby boomers

On World Hepatitis Day (July 28), UT Health San Antonio faculty member Barbara J. Turner, M.D., M.S.Ed., has a message for the generation most affected by hepatitis C, the baby boomers. Her mantra is the age-old adage: An ounce is prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has endorsed one-time screening of all baby boomers (born 1945-1965) for hepatitis C because 75 percent of the estimated 2 million to 3 million persons with chronic infection are in this age range,” Dr. Turner says.

Hepatitis C infection is treatable

Because of new combination therapies available today, baby boomers who are screened and found to have hepatitis C virus infection have a very high chance (better than 90 percent) of being cured of the disease. Prevention is important, because chronic hepatitis C infection can severely damage the liver, leading to liver failure, and is a common cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).

Dr. Turner is professor in the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center, now called UT Health San Antonio, and is founding director of the Research to Advance Community Health (ReACH) Center.

Consequences of failing to treat hepatitis C

“In the United States, millions of Americans have been infected by hepatitis C virus, but fewer than half have been diagnosed,” Dr. Turner says. “The consequences of failing to diagnose and treat the infection can be severe. In the next two decades, 1 million Americans are predicted to die from hepatitis C virus-related complications including cirrhosis, liver failure and hepatocellular carcinoma unless treatment is provided.”

A recent paper by Dr. Turner and co-authors describes psychological, emotional and social challenges of people coping with a hepatitis C diagnosis and who have poor knowledge of and barriers to obtaining supportive care.

Hepatitis C screening programs

ReACH has three preventive hepatitis C screening and linkage-to-care programs across South Texas. Two are funded by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as a section 1115 waiver, while the third receives support through the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

Through these projects, 40 primary care practices are screening, diagnosing and treating persons with hepatitis C virus. Most of these practices treat low-income, primarily Hispanic patient populations, with emphasis placed on education, care navigation and treatment with all oral, highly-effective therapies. Overall, more than 35,000 baby boomers have been screened through these programs and, when diagnosed with hepatitis C virus, can receive care to be cured. (See data below.)

Please read this related story from UT Health San Antonio’s news archive:  White House recognizes South Texas hepatitis C control efforts

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Hepatitis C screening statistics:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) project from 2012 to 2014 at University Hospital: 4,582 baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) screened, 175 (3.8%) were newly diagnosed as chronically infected.

Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) screening project from 2015 to 2017 (project goes until May 2018) in 20 clinic sites in Dallas and South Texas: 14,102 baby boomers screened, 635 (4.5%) were newly diagnosed as chronically infected.

Screening in Bexar County funded through the CMS 1115 Wavier 2014 to 2017: 7,828 baby boomers screened, 267 (3.4%) were newly diagnosed as chronically infected.

Screening in Rio Grande Valley funded through the CMS 1115 Wavier 2014 to 2017: 9,400 baby boomers screened, 100 (1.1%) were newly diagnosed as chronically infected.

Total screened in all projects: 35,912

Total chronically infected patients found: 1,177


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