Three School of Medicine physicians at Grady Hospital have established
a hepatitis C Clinic to treat and combat a virus that leads to chronic
liver disease in the estimated 3.9 million Americans who have been
The clinic was developed by Grady doctors Natalie Levy, Nomi Traub
and Christopher Iverson, and it is designed to educate and treat
those diagnosed with the disease about its signs, symptoms and long-term
effects. In a five-month period last year, 650 patients at Grady
tested positive for hepatitis C, prompting the need for a clinic
that specifically treats the virus.
“We’re very excited about the clinic,” Levy said.
“Many of our patients at Grady have hepatitis C, and treatment
and management of this disease is sufficiently complex that we all
sensed a growing need for a specialized program to support them.”
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV),
found in the blood of infected persons. The virus—considered
the most common bloodborne infection in the United States—is
primarily spread by contact with infected blood.
While 40 percent of patients do not know how they acquired HCV,
the most common known modes of transmission are through intravenous
drug use and blood transfusions before 1992. People with high-risk
sexual behavior, multiple partners and sexually transmitted diseases
also are at a slightly increased risk for hepatitis C.
Although the chronic form of the virus tends to be asymptomatic,
some of the signs and symptoms of acute infection may include jaundice,
fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and nausea.
The disease is typically diagnosed through a blood test. If left
untreated for several years, chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis
(scarring), liver cancer, liver failure and death.
At Grady, patients who test positive for hepatitis C are encouraged
to enroll and participate in an hour-long group education session,
where they see a video and are able to ask questions about the virus.
Patients are then invited back to an individual session at the clinic.
So far, the clinic has treated about 100 patients.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. The best
preventions are to avoid intravenous drug use and not to share personal
care items that might have blood on them (such as razors or toothbrushes).
Health care or public safety workers should always follow routine
barrier precautions and safely handle needles and other sharp objects.
People with multiple sexual partners should use latex condoms to
reduce transmission, and all those at risk should get vaccinated
against hepatitis A and hepatitis B to protect against other kinds
of preventable liver diseases.
Interferon and ribavirin are the two drugs licensed for treating
people with chronic hepatitis C. While interferon can be taken alone
or in combination with ribaviran, combination therapy currently
is the treatment of choice. Combination therapy is known to eliminate
the virus in up to five out of 10 persons.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the
number of new hepatitis C infections per year has declined from
an average of 240,000 in the 1980s to about 40,000 in 1998. By the
year 2000, the number of annual infections had declined to 30,000.