Free Hepatitis C Screening
Campaign Aims to Inform Veterans of Free Screening and Treatment Options
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System's "I Am Free of Hepatitis C" campaign is up and running! It features advertisements on public transit buses, billboards and in newspapers. The campaign was made possible through a special purpose grant from the Veterans Health Administration, which promotes local screening and hepatitis C treatment.
The call to action is simple. Veterans residing in VA Pittsburgh's 13-county service area who are enrolled for VA health care can make an appointment for a hepatitis C screening by calling 412-360-1232.
Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by a virus; it is generally spread through blood-to-blood contact. The disease begins with the swelling of the liver and can progress to liver damage such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Untreated liver problems may cause the organ's failure, require a transplant or even accelerate death. Most people with the virus don't even know they are infected.
"The most common risk factors for hepatitis C are past or present IV drug use, receiving blood from a transfusion prior to 1992, history of hemodialysis and human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV infection," said Tami Coppler of VA Pittsburgh's Hepatitis C Treatment Team. "Being a baby boomer and a Veteran also increase the risk of having hepatitis C."
More than 750 Veterans enrolled for care at VA Pittsburgh have been cured of the hepatitis C virus since new therapies were approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, according to Coppler. VA began using the all-oral therapies, which can eliminate the virus in as little as 12 weeks, in 2015. Researchers found the cost to proactively screen and cure the disease add up to much less than the cost of long-term medical care. The proactive approach also avoids needless patient suffering.
"We believe there are many more local Veterans who have hepatitis C—especially baby boomers. We hope to reach them, their families and caregivers through this campaign, so the Veterans can take advantage of the medications," said Coppler.
"Veterans who were treated with the older medications, such as interferon and ribavirin, may also be good candidates for the new therapies. We urge all Veterans who have the virus, or who haven't been screened, to come in as soon as possible for evaluation," said Coppler.
In October 2013, there were 168,708 U.S. Veterans waiting for hepatitis C treatment nationally. By September 2017 that number was reduced to 46,553. However, there are still 565,298 baby boomer Veterans who need to be screened for the virus. If all Veterans in this age range completed hepatitis C screening, VA believes an additional 8,300 Veterans would be diagnosed with the virus.