DOVER, Del. (AP/WBOC)- Delaware health officials are focusing a new campaign on hepatitis C screening for baby boomers and intravenous drug users.
The Delaware Division of Public Health will launch the program in mid-October. The program will teach health care providers, particularly primary care doctors and substance abuse clinicians, about how the disease is transmitted and whom to screen.
Delaware is one of seven states that doesn't consistently report case numbers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials acknowledge that cases are significantly under-reported, but Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay says the campaign will help the state improve the accuracy of its numbers.
"The campaign will help us to have better numbers because more people will be screened and more cases will be reported," Rattay said. "Delaware is not alone in that we are not reporting to the CDC ... but it is very important to us that we are able in a very short amount of time to have much more accurate numbers and quality."
The blood-borne disease is easily spread through intravenous drug use, but can be contracted in other ways from contaminated blood. The viral infection has few early symptoms, but can lead to liver scarring, cancer or total liver failure
Dr. Michael Brooks, a gastroenterologist with GI Specialists of Delaware who treats about 20 percent of his patients for hepatitis C, supports the new initiative, but said screening alone won't solve the problem. People also need access to treatment, he said.
But treatment is expensive: a 12-week regimen for the most effective direct-acting pharmaceutical treatments, Sovaldi and Harvoni, can cost up to $94,500. Insurance companies have strict requirements to approve it. For example, Medicaid requires a patient to be diagnosed with late-stage cirrhosis or liver scarring.
"I think it's a great push and I do think the primary care doctors should be testing, but the question is going to be are the state and the insurance companies going to be prepared for the results," Brooks said. "There's negotiations that the state can do with the pharmaceutical companies."
Resolving cost issues with treatment is "a bit more complicated," Rattay said. The division must increase internal infrastructure and staffing to get a handle on the hepatitis C problem and every positive test reported to the division requires an investigation, she said.
If you are not sure if you are at risk for hepatitis, visit the DPH hepatitis web page, and take the five-minute risk assessment: www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/dpc/hepatitis.html. For more information, or to report a hepatitis C case, call DPH's Adult Viral Hepatitis program at (302) 744-1050.