Hepatitis C used to be a death sentence. Doctors couldn’t offer patients much hope when they were diagnosed with it.
The good news is medications can now treat 95 percent of the people diagnosed with the disease. The bad news is that insurance companies want a liver scan before most will start paying for treatment.
For poor patients in rural portions of southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee – many of whom lack reliable transportation – this has traditionally meant a trip to either Lexington or Knoxville.
Thanks to a new Hepatitis C treatment service, this trip is no longer the case for area residents.
With the assistance of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant, Dayspring Health purchased an $80,000 FibroScan machine for its clinic in Jellico, Tennessee.
“Our community no longer needs to travel long distances for the care they need,” said Dr. Geogy Thomas, Medical Director at Dayspring Health. “By caring for our communities and curing Hepatitis C, we are moving closer to reclaiming our futures.”
Underscoring the significance of this announcement, the state health commissioners from Tennessee and Kentucky were present to highlight the service during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“We have seen a surge in chronic Hepatitis C cases in Tennessee in recent years, primarily among the baby boomer generation, as well as in those under 40,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey. ”We are pleased to see this new location as a welcome addition to help increase treatment capacity for Hep C patients in this region.”
Piercey noted that 150,000 Tennessee residents have Hepatitis C, which is roughly 2 percent of the population. About 20,000 new cases are diagnosed annually.
Sometimes called the “Silent Killer,” Hepatitis C is a blood-borne liver infection that often goes undetected. In fact, 70-80 percent of acute infections have no symptoms, though many patients are at risk of developing chronic issues, including liver cancer.
“Kentucky leads the country in both acute and chronic cases of Hepatitis C, which makes the work we are doing here so important,” said Dr. Jeffrey Howard, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
“It is estimated that 43,000 Kentuckians are currently living with Hepatitis C,” Howard added. “I think the number actually far exceeds that. It should also be noted that the magnitude of this disease in our state is directly related to our Substance Use Disorder problem.”
Kentucky is developing a statewide strategy to eliminate Hepatitis C through partnerships with local health departments and primary care providers, such as Dayspring Health.
“Hepatitis C is a disease with a treatment. It is not a death sentence like it used to be,” Howard added.
While there is a 1.3 percent prevalence rate of Hepatitis C in the nation, there is a 13 percent Hepatitis C rate in OB patients in our communities, Thomas said.
“This is a huge wake-up call. Hepatitis C is huge in our communities,” Thomas added.
To set up an appointment for a liver scan, contact Dayspring Health at (423) 784-5771 or stop by the clinic at 550 Sunset Trail in Jellico, Tennessee.
Thomas noted that you don’t have to be an existing Dayspring patient to get treatment or a scan, and can be referred there by a primary care physician.