Chase Brexton Health Care

Millions of people worldwide are affected by hepatitis, a viral disease spread through blood contact which attacks the liver. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention observes July 28th as World Hepatitis Day, an opportunity to recognize those impacted by the disease and spread awareness of the availability of a cure.

Here in Baltimore, Chase Brexton Health Care is leading the efforts against hepatitis C, a common form of the disease often found in baby boomers. Chase Brexton’s Infectious Disease Center of Excellence has developed a comprehensive and effective treatment program which successfully cured 98 percent of hepatitis C patients in 2016.

We asked Dr. Christine Meehan, PharmD, Chase Brexton’s Hepatitis C Program Coordinator, to share some facts about hepatitis C, and how those affected can get tested, treated, and cured.

What is hepatitis C? What are some of its symptoms, and long-term effects?

Hepatitis C is a virus that is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. Chronic, or long-lasting, hepatitis C can live in the body without the person knowing they are sick for many years. The most common symptom of a chronic infection is long-lasting fatigue or tiredness. Hepatitis C affects the way our liver functions in the body. The liver is important for breaking down alcohol, medication, and food. It also acts to get rid of toxins in the body. Having hepatitis C can cause your liver to become scarred and not work properly. When the liver starts to fail, people can become jaundiced and develop yellowing in their skin and eyes, bruise easily, become confused, and have a belly filled with fluid. If left untreated, it can eventually lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, or the need for a transplant.

Who is at risk of contracting it? What kinds of activities could lead to someone becoming infected?

The individuals who are at the highest risk of contracting hepatitis C are those who are injecting, snorting, or smoking illicit substances, or having high-risk unprotected sex including multiple sex partners without using protection. Other activities that can lead to someone becoming infected are getting tattoos and piercings that are not done in a proper shop, becoming incarcerated, long-term hemodialysis, and coming into contact with infected blood or blood products.

How is hepatitis C treated? Can it be cured?

Hepatitis C is treated with oral tablets, usually taken for two to three months. The medications are very tolerable with little to no side effects. They are highly effective, with success rates above 90 percent. These medications can cure a patient of their hepatitis C. It is possible for the person to become re-infected after successful cure if the person continues the activities which initially caused him or her to become infected, or comes in contact with contaminated blood.

Where can I go for more information and to get tested?

Visit ChaseBrexton.org/hepC for more information about hepatitis C screening, treatment, and transmission. Other resources are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov) and Mayo Clinic (Mayoclinic.org). Chase Brexton offers free, rapid hepatitis C testing with no appointment required. If a person tests positive in that rapid test, a follow-up blood test must be performed to see if he or she is truly, actively infected. If so, we would connect that patient with one of our certified hepatitis C providers, who would evaluate and counsel them on the next steps to get the hepatitis C infection treated and cured.

For more information about Chase Brexton Health Care’s hepatitis C treatment program, visit ChaseBrexton.org/hepC.