Lurking killer can be cured, but only if people get tested and linked to care, doctor says

May 22, 2019
Meissner talks to Hopkins as they sit in an office in front of computers
Dr. Eric Meissner talks with physician assistant Betsy Hopkins at the infectious diseases clinic in Rutledge Tower. Photo by Sarah Pack

Hepatitis C virus can cause cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer and is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The bad news? There are an estimated 2.4 million people living with hepatitis C virus in the United States, and many don’t even know it.

The good news? It can usually be cured when patients can access treatment, said Eric Meissner, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in MUSC’s Division of Infectious Diseases, one of several areas within MUSC Health that treat hepatitis C virus infection.

"There are an estimated 65,000 people in the state that have this infection, many of whom are unaware they are infected."

 

Dr. Eric Meissner

Meissner said there are great medicines available today, and treating the virus can be as simple as taking a pill for eight to 12 weeks. The trick is finding the people who are infected and linking them to care. Baby boomers and people who have used drugs intravenously are two main groups that should be tested.

“Screening for hepatitis C virus in our blood supply didn’t begin until 1992, so anyone that had potential exposure to someone else’s blood – if you had a transfusion or some other medical encounter – is at risk of having acquired the infection decades ago,” he said.

The virus can live quietly in the body for decades before problems become apparent. During that time, many people show no symptoms.

“There are an estimated 65,000 people in the state that have this infection, many of whom are unaware they are infected,” Meissner said.

Meissner said people with health insurance are almost always covered for the hepatitis C treatment. Accessing services can be more difficult for the uninsured due to the cost of the doctor’s visit and bloodwork, but with help from pharmacy colleagues and pharmaceutical support programs, they can often access medication at no cost.

Anyone interested in being tested should talk to their primary care doctor. For treatment, the Division of Infectious Diseases can be reached at 843-792-9200.

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Leslie Cantu

Keywords: Cancer