Physicians Establish Hepatitis C Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital
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
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
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