FRANKFORT — While Hepatitis A has gotten a lot of attention recently due to the ongoing outbreak in Kentucky, state officials are also concerned about another form, known as Hepatitis C, or HCV.
The state Department for Public Health hosted a statewide Hepatitis C elimination meeting Monday, with staff from the state's local health departments, universities, hospitals, corrections departments, behavioral health facilities, private providers and other groups in attendance.
Kentucky leads the nation in both acute and chronic cases of HCV, a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage, cancer, and death. It is spread through contaminated blood.
"More than 43,000 Kentuckians are currently living with Hepatitis C,” said Dr. Jeffrey Howard, Department of Public Health Commissioner. “The detrimental effects, including negative health implications, lack of productivity, and cost due to this disease, are enormous. That is why this effort is so important. DPH is organizing the state’s leaders in HCV treatment in order to develop a comprehensive and statewide strategy to eliminate Hepatitis C."
Intravenous drug use is a large contributor to cases of HCV. Over the past 10 years Kentucky’s incidence rate has been as high as 5 times the national average. Preliminary information from 2019 shows the rate of disease is higher in parts of eastern and northern Kentucky.
"We are confident that through developing a statewide strategic plan that orients all of our partners towards eliminating HCV from our state, we can make great strides in ending the HCV epidemic in our state,” said Howard.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hepatitis A, B and C are liver infections caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they are spread in different ways and can affect the liver differently.
Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as short-term infections but in some people, the virus remains in the body, and causes chronic (lifelong) infection. There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B; however, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
The CDC estimates there are approximately 2.4 million people living in the U.S. with Hepatitis C, with about 41,000 new infections each year. The CDC says about half of people with Hepatitis C do not know they are infected. 75 percent of people with Hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965.
Current, relevant data is necessary to understand the burden of disease for improved allocation of funding and to prioritize areas in need.
Mechanisms are in place to gather more accurate and timely data regarding Hepatitis C, using the Kentucky Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and electronic laboratory reporting.
The Department for Public Health identified an outbreak of acute Hepatitis A in November 2017. Since then, the total number of cases has reached 4,793 as of July 13, with 48 percent of them requiring hospitalization. There have also been 59 deaths linked to Hepatitis A in Kentucky.