An estimated 80,000 Arizonans live with hepatitis C, one of Arizona’s most commonly reported infectious diseases, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Unfortunately, half of people with hepatitis C are unaware they are infected, causing the disease to spread even more rapidly. The Hepatitis C Care Team at North Country HealthCare is actively working to raise awareness of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and provide screenings and treatment to prevent the spread of this potentially deadly disease in Northern Arizona.
For years, North Country HealthCare’s Hepatitis C Care team has been caring for those living with HCV by helping patients gain access to treatment, and by improving patients’ quality of life and well being. North Country’s providers educate patients, helping them to manage their health and prevent spreading the virus. For those who can be treated, the Hepatitis C Care Team works to get approval from their insurance to pay for treatment. For those who are uninsured, the team assists with applying for assistance programs to help cover the cost of treatment. Team members work closely with patients undergoing treatment to ensure they are taking medications, completing necessary blood tests and following up with specialists, as appropriate.
The Hepatitis C Care Team is made up of health care providers, clinical pharmacists, behaviorists, health coaches, a program coordinator and other support personnel. The Hepatitis C Care Team works with specialists from Banner Medical Center using telemedicine in a collaboration called Project ECHO. Through this partnership, North Country HealthCare providers work with leading HCV specialists to treat and cure HCV in the primary care setting.
To date, 131 patients have completed HCV treatment at North Country HealthCare, and 30 more are currently in treatment.
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus; it is the most common infection spread by blood in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There is currently no vaccine for HCV. The best way to prevent it is to avoid behaviors that can spread the disease.
HCV is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, which can happen via injection drug use, tattooing or body piercing, sharing personal hygiene items such as nail clippers or a razor or blood transfusions, especially prior to 1992. HCV can also be transmitted during intercourse or from a mother to her child during childbirth, although both cases are rare.
About 15 out of 100 people who are exposed to HCV can fight off the virus with their own immune system. For these people HCV is a short-term illness, but for 75 to 80 percent of those infected with HCV, it becomes a long-term, chronic condition. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis C continues to damage the liver and can result in cirrhosis, eventual liver failure and even death.
Those outcomes can often be prevented with treatment. In fact, 99 percent of those who receive treatment for chronic HCV are cured. Treatments for HCV have seen huge improvements over the past five years, and new drugs are being developed at a rapid rate.
Collaborative programs like North Country HealthCare’s are making great efforts to increase patients’ access to curative programs, not only through providing treatment, but supporting patients to resolve barriers to their care. For more information about North Country HealthCare, visit northcountryhealthcare.org. FBN
By Kimberly Chen
About North Country HealthCare
North Country HealthCare serves as the medical home for nearly 50,000 people throughout northern Arizona, 20,000 who reside in Flagstaff and the surrounding area. North Country HealthCare accepts Medicare, AHCCCS, commercial insurance and offers a sliding fee scale based on income and family size. If you are in need of a medical home, North Country has a large and diverse provider team and is always accepting new patients. For more information on the locations, programs and services, call 928-522-9400 or visit northcountryhealthcare.org. Like North Country HealthCare on Facebook.