July 28 is designated as World Hepatitis Day by the World Health Organization to encourage testing and treatment of Hepatitis C. The international healthcare agency has set an ambitious goal to eliminate hepatitis by 2030.
Swope Health has taken a leadership role in Kansas City, the state of Missouri, and nationally in advocating for testing and treatment, and in establishing training, policies, and practices for other clinics with a goal of eliminating Hep C in Missouri.
Rachel Melson, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Outreach Clinic Director, serves on the Advisory Committee for the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable and is a subject matter expert in Hepatitis C for the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council. She is a member of the state task force on Hepatitis C, and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Viral Hepatitis Stakeholders Group. As part of this group, she developed a Hepatitis C Provider “Pocket Guide” as a resource to educate providers across the state.
In the last few years, Swope Health has expanded its Hep C services to include Nurse Care Managers who support all program patients including those with high risk or additional complexity from other health issues. A nurse care manager works with each patient to create an individualized care plan to address their specific needs.
In addition, Hep C testing and access to treatment are now available from all eight Swope Health clinics – Central, Belton, Hickman Mills, Independence, Maple Woods, Northland, West and Wyandotte.
In all clinics, patients can receive a simple fingerstick test to determine exposure to the Hep C antibodies, with results in 20 minutes. If a patient tests positive for Hep C, a second lab test is ordered to confirm.
“If we find out you have Hep C, we’re going to speed line you to get treatment,” she said. “Our goal is to make it easy for you to get cured.”
The treatment for Hep C is an antiviral drug taken as a pill daily, in an eight-week or 12-week schedule. The Nurse Care Managers assist patients with all aspects of care – providing support for transportation, Medicaid access, home health needs, affordable medication, behavioral health services as well as rescheduling missed appointments or just being available for questions.
Once a patient is graduated out of Hep C care, they are still connected to primary care and related services.
“Our nurse care managers are so dedicated, so willing to go the distance and to make sure our patients get the care they need,” Rachel said. “Any obstacle, we’re going to find ways to get you connected.”
She added: “We don’t get to say ‘cured’ a lot in medicine, but with this treatment we can, and at a high success rate. So we want to get access to as many patients as possible and get them all on the path from tested to cured.”
Why you should care
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that there are an estimated 2.2 million people living with the disease, and many may not experience any symptoms of disease. Nearly 40 percent of people with Hep C do not know they are infected, because most people with Hep C virus don’t have symptoms or look or feel sick.
More than half of the individuals diagnosed with Hep C will develop chronic infection. Left untreated, Hep C can progress into chronic infection and serious lifelong illness. Hep C is the most common reason for needing a liver transplant in the United States.
Additionally, deaths from Hep C are highest in Black people and American Indian or Alaska natives.
The Hepatitis C virus spreads by contact with the blood of an infected person. It can be transmitted in birth, by sharing drug-injection devices, sex with an infected person or even by unregulated tattoos or piercings. If you have Hep C, you can spread it to other people even if you don’t have any symptoms.
The CDC recommends Hep C testing for everyone age 18 or older. Additionally, you should continue to get routine testing if you have Hep C risk factors, which include HIV infection, injection drug use, recent incarceration or if you are receiving dialysis.
There is no vaccination to prevent Hep C, but there is a treatment that can cure the disease. Swope Health has cured more than 350 people over the last four years.
What you can do
If you are unsure of your Hep C status, you can be screened at Swope Health, at any location. All adults age 18 and older should be tested at least once and continue to get routine testing if they have risk factors or conditions including HIV infection, injection drug use, recent incarceration or are receiving dialysis.
Anyone who has tested positive for Hepatitis C can call Swope Health for treatment – regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay. For more information, call the Hep C Nurse at 816-321-3604.
- Hep C and Swope Health’s testing and treatment.
- Missouri’s Project Hep Cure, offering no cost care to MO HealthNet participants
- The CDC’s explanationsof the primary types of viral hepatitis: A, B and C.
- Global Hep C facts from the WHO