UK HealthCare ER finding hepatitis C before it costs patients

Published: Feb. 27, 2019 at 5:42 PM EST
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University of Kentucky doctors are finding results with a new strategy aimed at decreasing the state's high hepatitis C rate.

Kentucky ranks high among hepatitis C rates nationwide, which is why doctors are looking at battling the disease before it affects patients.

"The prevalence is huge," UK Emergency Department Dr. Daniel Moore said. "We have a cure, but trying to get the cure to the people that have the disease is a huge challenge."

Dr. Moore and his team are trying to raise awareness about the challenge by testing everyone who comes into the emergency room for hepatitis C. The hospital started the trial in July, and the results are enough to convince Dr. Moore to keep testing.

"Overall, 11 percent of all the patients that come through our emergency department are positive for having been infected with hepatitis C," he said.

The percentage was worse for patients in their 20s and 30s. 20 percent of non-baby boomers tested positive for having antibodies ready to fight hepatitis C. Moore said the prevalence of hepatitis C in young patients has spiked about 500 percent in the last five years.

"This is a disease that we know is going to cost billions of dollars in healthcare costs downstream if it remains untreated," Moore said.

Moore said Hep. C is treatable when detected, and it's a tolerable treatment. However, only one in four diagnosed with having the infection actually get treatment.

Hepatitis C is closely linked to drug abuse. Dirty needles can infect the blood with hepatitis C but then remain dormant for many years. When it does progress, hepatitis C attacks the liver.

Emergency room testing is currently funded through a grant. However, Dr. Moore said no matter what, they will continue testing every patient unless they opt out.

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