Staggering rise in Hepatitis C cases has healthcare providers working to raise awareness

WISE COUNTY, VA (WJHL) – A staggering increase in Hepatitis C cases across central Appalachia has area healthcare providers ramping up efforts to raise awareness.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 364% increase in hepatitis C cases from 2006 to 2012 in Tennesse, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. The number of cases in our region among those 30 years old and younger is dramatically higher in rural areas – statistics community leaders aren’t taking lightly.

hep c“I would say – probably 10 times more hepatitis information than the government has previously given me,” Director of Business Development at Watauga Recovery Center Penny McElroy told News Channel 11, referencing the amount of educational materials she received from the CDC on hepatitis C.

Every year, McElroy gathers materials, such as information on Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, to bring to the Remote Area Medical Clinic. RAM is an event that provides free healthcare to those in need.

Watauga Recovery Center is a medication assisted treatment program in Johnson City that works with the addicted population.

“We do hepatitis C testing on all of our patients at Wataga Recovery Center, and the incedents and the increase in hepatitis C is just dramatic,” Wautaga Recovery Center President Dr. Tom Reach said. “Initially, when we started doing hepatitis C testing in 2011, we had about a 30% population that were hepatitis C positive. That number is well over 50% of our population here.”

McElroy said she feels a calling to educate people on the virus, “to say, you know, get tested early. get checked.”

That’s because she knows firsthand the power of the blood-borne virus.

“My husband was a Vietnam veteran,” McElroy said. “He was diagnosed, probably in the late 90s with hepatitis C.”

In 2008, her husband was diagnosed with liver cancer. He died in 2010.

“He never made a liver transplant list because the hepatitis virus, the genotype that he had was so strong, that his health just went downhill very quickly and he passed away,” McElroy said.

Executive Director of the Health Wagon and organizer of the RAM clinic, Teresa Gardner, told News Channel 11 this weekend’s event provides an opportunity to focus on hepatitis C prevention. In addition to providing educational materials, there will be free testing for hepatitis C and HIV. For those battling addiction, the Health Wagon will put names into a referral system to get people help that way as well.

McElroy said she’ll be on hand, helping raise awareness with her husband in her heart.

“Doing what I can now, and using his experience as something to reach out and help people with. You know, it makes that experience,” McElroy paused, “valid.”

The CDC reports, although the prevalance of HIV in central Appalachia is low, the increase in hepatitis C cases indicates that IV drug use is high – a risk factor, because of the potential for infected needles.

RAM, at the Wise County fairgrounds kicks off Friday and continues through July 19th. Registration begins at 6:00 in the morning daily, and patients will be seen on a first come first serve basis.

For more information on the event, visit the Health Wagon’s website.


How is HCV transmitted?

HCV is transmitted primarily through large or repeated percutaneous (i.e., passage through the skin) exposures to infectious blood, such as

•Injection drug use (currently the most common means of HCV transmission in the United States)

•Receipt of donated blood, blood products, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)

•Needlestick injuries in health care settings

•Birth to an HCV-infected mother

HCV can also be spread infrequently through

•Sex with an HCV-infected person (an inefficient means of transmission)

•Sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood, such as razors or toothbrushes (also inefficient vectors of transmission)

•Other health care procedures that involve invasive procedures, such as injections (usually recognized in the context of outbreaks)


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