VA to conduct free hepatitis C screenings

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COLUMBIA - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct free hepatitis C virus (HCV) screenings Friday.

The hospital is targeting veterans enrolled in the VA health care system who are between 52 and 72 years old. 

VA chief of staff Lana Zerrer said 75 percent of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. She also said 75 percent of people with the virus develop chronic liver disease.

According to Zerrer, blood contact is the most common factor in spreading the virus.

"Health care workers are at higher risk," Zerrer said. "Also, people who have used intravenous drugs and people who have had blood transfusions before the 90's.

Veterans who experienced blood contact in combat are also at a higher risk. 

The cure rate for the virus nationally is between 50 to 90 percent. Zerrer said the hospital has a strong treatment record.

"We're seeing over a 90 percent cure rate her at the VA," Zerrer said.

She said, over the past couple of years, HCV drugs have improved and the cost of treatment has decreased.

"When the new drugs first came out, one treatment regimen was about $90,000 for one patient, but over the last couple of years, that cost has come down and now it's running anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000 per patient," Zerrer said.

The hospital does screen patients who come in for regular checkups since some are not aware of the symptoms.

"We're trying to get more information to the community about hepatitis C just to try to get more people in the door to get screened," Zerrer said.

Nationally, the VA has treated more than 60,000 veterans for HCV. Locally, the VA has treated hundreds of veterans, Zerrer said. 

This Friday will be the VA's second HCV screening. 50 people came to the first screening.

 VA Public Affairs officer Stephen Gaither said he hopes Friday will have the same turnout.

"If it's even one person, that will be one person that wasn't screened before," he said.

Scheduled screenings are:

  • Friday, May 26 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 31 8:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 14 8:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.