CUMBERLAND — Due to recent legislative changes, Maryland Medicaid has lifted liver fibrosis restrictions to allow access to treatment regardless of the degree of liver damage.
Prior to this change, patients with minimal liver damage due to the hepatitis C virus were often denied access to curative treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.4 million people in the United States are living with hepatitis C virus infection and half of them don’t know it.
Hepatitis C is a virus that affects the liver and is spread primarily by blood.
The CDC recommends that everyone born between 1945-1965 should be tested at least once due to the high prevalence of HCV among this age group.
In addition, those with risk factors for possible blood exposures should be tested, including a blood transfusion before 1992, previous dialysis, history of intranasal or injection drug use, tattoos in an unregulated setting, clotting factor concentrates before 1987, living with HIV, born to a mother with HCV, history of incarceration, presence of elevated liver enzymes or blood exposures on the job.
A simple blood test is the only way to know if you have HCV. Treatments are typically eight to 12 weeks, very well-tolerated and highly effective with cure rates 95% or higher.
Call the Johns Hopkins Viral Hepatitis Program office located in the Allegany County Health Department for questions or appointments at 301-759-5101.
Why is HCV diagnosis often missed? Most people don’t have symptoms, knowledge of the disease or how it is transmitted. Many can live with the infection for years or decades without signs of liver disease. If left untreated, HCV can cause cirrhosis, liver failure or even liver cancer. All the while, people living with HCV can unknowingly transmit the infection to others.