Hep C treatment lets patients focus on future

Hepatitis C (Hep C) kills more people than any other preventable infectious disease in the United States. Almost 20,000 people die each year from the disease that destroys the liver.

People get Hep C through contact with infected blood. That can happen from getting a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992, using drugs inhaled through the nose, sharing needles, and in some cases getting a piercing or tattoo in an unregulated business or having sexual contact with an infected partner.

“People can carry the disease for years and not know it,” said Anne Markovich, BSN, RN, CWOCN, nurse coordinator at Carle Digestive Health. “If people engaged in high-risk activities in the past—even decades ago—they need to talk to their doctor about Hep C and get tested.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a one-time Hep C test for anyone born from 1945 to 1965.

Hepatitis C, while still serious, is highly curable. People who have Hepatitis must be under a doctor’s care. Four fellowship-trained digestive health doctors treat Carle patients with Hep C. 

Treatment plans for Hep C have improved greatly in the past few years.

“The old treatment involved long-term injections that caused terrible side effects,” Markovich said. “Today patients take an oral medication for over less time. This medicine has very few side effects.”

While oral medication is expensive, Markovich says prices are coming down and most insurance companies cover the cost, adding people should talk with their insurance provider about Hep C coverage.

Markovich marvels at the progress of Hep C treatment.

She recalled, “When I became a nurse 31 years ago, there was no treatment. Later we would try to treat the disease, but patients were miserable. Now, all they need to do is take the oral medication faithfully, and they have a great chance at being cured of the Hep C virus.”

For some, it’s the end of a long journey.

“Hepatitis C is the last link to their past lifestyle,” Markovich said. “The best part of my job is when I call patients and tell them they are cured. Those are happy and very emotional calls.”