Hepatitis is an increasing health problem in Western New York, but the health care system is pushing back with vaccines, cures and information.
This last year has seen the problems of Hepatitis A in the food industry and State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is warning of the larger problem.
Locally, there is the Buffalo BOOTS (Bringing Outreach On The Streets) program to take screening and care out of the office. Based on increasing research, the program uses navigators to spot people and get them into screening and treatment.
Four of Kaleida Health's hospitals have a navigator in the emergency room, asking people who come in if they want to be screened for hepatitis.
"We're screening patients for Hep C and HIV, said Dr. Andrew Talal, a professor of Medicine at the University at Buffalo Jacobs Medical School and long-time hepatitis researcher, "and, in fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now has draft guidelines that suggest that anybody, aged perhaps as young as 13 to 79, should be screened for Hepatitis C. So no longer just the screening if you are in a high-risk category."
Talal said there still is a tremendous amount of stigma associated with Hepatitis C.
"Advocating for a linkage to care program, for a patient navigation program that would enable patients or what we we call peer navigators, those people who have been treated for Hep C or at least a family member who understands Hep C, to help others get the treatment they need," he said.
Those navigators can offer patients an actual cure, a recent drug that kills Hepatitis C in just about every patient.
"Huge, yes. We have many more effective agents to treat and cure Hepatitis C," said Talal. "In the past, people were fearful of the treatment because of so many side effects. That's not the case today. We have very effective agents, smaller amount of time for treatment, with little to no side effects."
A major difficulty being addressed by the navigators is that those with the disease often don't know it. Talal is trying to persuade city government to put up some cash to help run his program.