Health department tracking hepatitis C cases


More than 600 Vermonters have chronic hepatitis C. The disease was the second most commonly tracked by public health officials last year, according to data from the Vermont Department of Health.

The Health Department began monitoring hepatitis C data in the past three months, to look for trends and see if doctors are performing duplicate tests for the virus.

Meanwhile, taxpayer-funded health insurance programs for poor and older Vermonters, who are more likely to have hepatitis C, cover the new treatment drug Sovaldi. That drug is controversial because it costs $84,000 for 12 weeks of treatment but is known to eliminate the disease, which is thought to be virtually incurable.

In 2013, there were 638 reported cases of chronic hepatitis C, according to state health data. Only Lyme disease had more reported cases last year (887). There have been 294 cases reported this year, which is on track with health officials' expectations.

Hepatitis C is considered the most common blood-borne infection in the United States. Nationwide, about 3.2 million people have the chronic form of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The number of hepatitis C cases in Vermont is high but not abnormal compared to the rest of the country, said Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist.

"Ultimately what we're trying to do is use the surveillance data to help us guide prevention," she said.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus that can be acute or chronic and last a few weeks or a lifetime. Many people who have it don't know they do because they don't look or feel sick. The disease can be silent for decades but if not treated, can cause liver scarring and liver cancer.


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