Grant Provides NKY Residents with Free Hepatitis C Screenings and Linkage to Care

NKY Health received a grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc. and FOCUS: (On the) Frontline of Communities in the U.S., a program for free hepatitis C (HCV) screening and linkage-to-care, to focus on the current outbreak of HCV in the Northern Kentucky region.  Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of innovative medicines.  Their goal is to advance therapeutics against life-threatening diseases worldwide. Susan Guthier, RN is the Linkage to Care Coordinator for Hepatitis C for this grant. Sheri King, RN is the Linkage to Care Navigator who will facilitate off-site community rapid HCV testing events.

Acute HCV rates in Northern Kentucky (NKY) are among the highest in the nation.

In 2015, acute HCV rates in NKY were:

  • 3.5 times the rate of Kentucky
  • 11.9 times the rate of the U.S.

NKY (10.3% of Kentucky’s population) has 36.1% of the HCV cases in the Commonwealth.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. HCV can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. HCV can be described as “acute,” meaning a new infection, or “chronic,” meaning lifelong infection.

Many people with HCV do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. If symptoms do occur, they typically include fatigue, fever, nausea, decreased appetite, muscle or joint pain, dark urine, grey-colored stool and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

HCV is spread by contact with infected blood. Today, most people become infected with HCV by sharing needles or other equipment to prepare or inject drugs. People born from 1945–1965, also referred to as “Baby Boomers,” are five times more likely to have HCV than other adults.

HCV can cause serious liver damage, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is the number one reason for liver transplants in the United States.

Liver damage from HCV can be prevented by early diagnosis and timely access to care and treatment. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to prevent HCV; however, HCV is treatable and curable!

Who is at risk for HCV infection?

People who are at increased risk for HCV infection:

  • Current or former injection drug users, including those who injected only once many years ago.
  • Recipients of clotting factor concentrates made before 1987, when less advanced methods for manufacturing those products were used.
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants prior to July 1992, before better testing of blood donors became available.
  • Chronic hemodialysis patients.
  • People with HIV infection.
  • People with known exposures to HCV, such as:
    • Health care workers after needlesticks involving HCV-positive blood.
    • Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested HCV-positive.
    • Children born to HCV-positive mothers.

Susan’s role as the HCV Linkage to Care Coordinator includes increasing testing in this high-risk population and linking HCV-positive patients to care. The goals of care coordination and linkage include optimizing a client’s self-care capabilities, assisting clients with access to services, providing education and health care, and social services referrals. The total number of HCV tests conducted and the number of patients linked to care will be reported back to Gilead through a data collection tool provided by FOCUS.

NKY Health is committed to harm reduction strategies to address the current opioid epidemic affecting our region and the nation.  Increasing the testing and treatment of patients who have HCV is one part of improving the health of our region through these best practice initiatives of testing, then treatment. HCV is a serious illness that affects the liver, but HCV can be cured and NKY Health is taking measures to ensure free testing and referrals to treatment are available through the work from this Gilead/FOCUS grant.

By:  Susan Guthier, RN, BSN, Hepatitis C Linkage to Care Coordinator