FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
1/19/2016
FOR INFORMATION, CONTACT:
John Maszinski
Office: 312-580-6440
E-mail:johnmaszinski@isms.org
The American Liver Foundation and Illinois State Medical Society Join Forces to Work towards Eliminating Hepatitis C

Chicago, IL - The American Liver Foundation - Great Lakes Division (ALF) and the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) are joining forces to eradicate a silent killer affecting millions of Americans: Hepatitis C. By promoting updated clinical guidelines for screening patients and encouraging those at risk to get screened, these two organizations seek to significantly increase awareness about the disease and to improve screening rates in targeted populations with the end goal of eliminating this disease.

Hepatitis C is the most common blood borne infection in the United States. Impacting the liver for decades without sign or symptom, Hepatitis C can slowly kill without patients even knowing they are infected until it is too late. It is estimated that nearly 4 million people in the United States have Hepatitis C; however, only a quarter of those individuals have actually been diagnosed and just over a tenth are being treated. In Illinois, there are an estimated 157,000 patients living with Hepatitis C.

ISMS and ALF have been working on this issue since new clinical guidelines came out in August of 2012, and the effects are evident. Data obtained from the Illinois Department of Public Health show a 29 percent increase in new cases from 2013 to 2014. While this trend is a good start, reflecting an increase in testing, our organizations believe we can do better. 

ISMS and ALF are coming together to continue to improve the rate of Hepatitis C diagnosis in Illinois. Through a joint campaign, ISMS and ALF want to raise awareness about the disease among at-risk individuals, and increase screenings in patients who are identified as the most at-risk in clinical guidelines recently updated by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Hepatitis C causes liver disease, very often without symptoms, and we need to make sure at-risk patients get screened and treated for the virus," said ISMS President Scott A. Cooper, M.D. "We are excited to be working with the American Liver Foundation on this important initiative to educate, screen and treat those afflicted by Hepatitis C. Our primary goal is to educate physicians -particularly primary care physicians - about the updated CDC guidelines and the need to screen Baby Boomers," added Cooper.

The CDC recommends that those born between 1945 and 1965 should be offered a one-time screening for Hepatitis C. This Baby Boomer population has been found to be five times more likely to have Hepatitis C, with three out of every four cases of the virus occurring in those born during that twenty-year period. The reason for such a high rate of infection among this age group is not completely understood; however, it is believed that most became infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of Hepatitis C were at their highest.

Additionally, drug users, HIV-positive patients, dialysis patients, hemophiliacs who received clotting factors before 1987, those who received blood transfusions or organ transplants prior to 1992, and anyone else who has had close or intimate contact with a Hepatitis C positive patient are at higher risk of being infected and should be screened.

The good news for those who have Hepatitis C is that it is treatable. "We can cure Hepatitis C," said ALF Medical Advisory Member and ISMS member Rockford G. Yapp, M.D. "Newer medicines now exist that can eradicate the virus in over 90 percent of the patients being treated. But first we need to identify them," said Yapp. "ALF and ISMS working together to educate physicians and patients alike is a key component." 

In the coming months, ISMS and ALF will work to develop new educational materials and communications for physicians and patients on the importance of screening. It is our hope that through this collaborative effort, more people will become aware of this silent killer and subsequent screenings will significantly increase the number of patients who seek treatment, and are ultimately cured of this disease.

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To learn more about Hepatitis C, visit www.isms.org/HepC or the Hepatitis C page at www.liverfoundation.org

Founded in 1840, ISMS is a professional membership association representing Illinois physicians in all medical specialties, and their patients, statewide. Dr. Cooper is an emergency physician practicing in Waukegan. ALF works continually to fulfill our mission to facilitate, advocate and promote education, support and research for the prevention, treatment and cure of liver disease. Dr. Yapp practices gastroenterology in Downers Grove.


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