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August 20, 2002


Emory Physicians Establish Hepatitis C Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital

Three Emory University School of Medicine physicians at Grady Memorial Hospital have established a Hepatitis C Clinic to treat and combat a virus that leads to chronic liver disease in the estimated 3.9 million Americans who have been infected. The Grady-based clinic was developed by Drs. Natalie Levy, Nomi Traub, and Christopher Iverson, and is designed to educate and treat those diagnosed with the disease about its signs, symptoms, and long-term effects.

In a five-month period last year, 650 patients at Grady tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus, prompting the need for a clinic that specifically treats the virus.

"We’re very excited about the clinic," said Dr. Levy. "Many of our patients at Grady have hepatitis C, and the treatment and management of this disease is sufficiently complex that we all sensed a growing need for a specialized program to support them."

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have this disease. The virus – considered the most common bloodborne infection in the United States - is primarily spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. While 40 percent of patients do not know how they acquired HCV, the most common known modes of transmission are through intravenous drug use and blood transfusions before 1992. People with high-risk sexual behavior, multiple partners, and sexually transmitted diseases are also at a slightly increased risk for hepatitis C.

Although the chronic form of the virus tends to be asymptomatic, some of the signs and symptoms of acute infection may include jaundice, fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and nausea. The disease is typically diagnosed through a blood test. If left untreated for several years, chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis (scarring), liver cancer, liver failure, and death.

At Grady, patients who test positive for hepatitis C are encouraged to call the hospital to enroll and participate in an hour-long group education session, where they see a video and are able to ask questions about the virus. Patients are then invited back to make an individual session at the clinic. So far, 100 patients have been treated at the clinic.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. The best- known preventions are to avoid shooting drugs and not sharing personal care items that might have blood on them (such as razors or toothbrushes). Health care or public safety workers should always follow routine barrier precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps; a person with multiple sexual partners should practice safe sex by using latex condoms to reduce transmission; and a person should get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B to protect against getting other kinds of preventable liver diseases.

Interferon and ribavirin are the two drugs licensed for treating people with chronic Hepatitis C. While interferon can be taken alone or in combination with ribaviran, combination therapy is currently the treatment of choice. Combination therapy is known to eliminate the virus in up to five out of 10 persons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of new Hepatitis C infections per year has declined from an average 240,000 in the 1980s to about 40,000 in 1998. By the year 2000, the number of infections had declined to 30,000.

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