January 10th, 2013
Despite the most advanced healthcare expertise in the world, HCV continues to be a significant problem in the US.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 get a one-time hepatitis C test. This is partly because many in this age group could have been infected with the virus decades ago without knowing it, through sharing needles, sexual contact or blood transfusions that took place long before blood and blood products were screened.
The veteran community is disproportionately affected by chronic hep C. In fact, it’s thought that veterans are twice as likely to be infected as the general population. Most of those being treated in the Veterans’ Affairs healthcare system in recent years were infected during the Vietnam War era between 1964 and 1975.
Another cause for concern for the medical community in the US is needle safety. In December 2012, a health clinic in South Bronx released a video, ‘Santa Passes out Clean Needles for Christmas’, to promote services to combat hepatitis C and HIV during the holiday period.
Around the same time, USA Today reported on the problem of hepatitis C infections caused by dirty medical needles. In their segment ‘When healthcare makes you sick’, Dr Evelyn McKnight spoke about contracting the virus while receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Dr McKnight spoke of her struggle to deal with the news and her difficultly telling people, as it is still a disease with a lot of stigma attached to it.
In the United States, when such a mistake occurs, patients are generally sent a letter informing them that they may have been infected with a disease like HCV or HIV. A study by the CDC found that as many as 150,000 Americans have been sent such a letter in the past decade.
Dr McKnight has turned her own personal tragedy into a crusade to save lives, and co-founded the HONOReform foundation, America’s only national advocacy organization dedicated to protecting patients through safeguarding the medical injection process. She also co-wrote the book A Never Event: Exposing the Largest Outbreak of Hepatitis C in American Healthcare History, in which she details the 2001 Nebraska outbreak, when she was one of 99 people who were found to have been infected.
Michael Bell, associate director of infection control at the CDC, said: “It’s a huge problem because it should never happen at all.” Patients should be confident that when a syringe is prepared for them, it has not been used before, and it will not be used again afterwards. “It may sound nit-picky… but you want to be sure. It’s OK to ask.”
American is now waking up to the fact that hep C is now a bigger killer than HIV. As it stands, there are roughly 18,000 new hep C infections each year – most of which are contracted by injection-drug users.