Following Spike in Hepatitis C Cases, Kentucky Considers Expanding Screenings for Virus

Jul 30, 2015

Electron micrographs of hepatitis C virus purified from cell culture.
Credit Charles Rice, via Wikimedia Commons

  Officials at the state and local levels are in discussions about offering hepatitis C testing at all Kentucky county health departments.

Some local offices offered the tests last year as part of a pilot project, when Kentucky began to see a spike in hepatitis C cases related to intravenous drug use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in May that Kentucky’s rate of hepatitis C is seven times higher than the national average.

Deputy Commissioner Kraig Humbaugh, with the Kentucky Department of Public Health, says increased screening opportunities would be a way for health and addiction experts to reach out to those who need help.

“Let’s say you are hepatitis C positive—that may influence you to then change your behaviors, so that you’re at less risk of spreading to others," Humbaugh said. "So our goal is to try to get more people tested, to be aware of their status, and linked to treatment options before they develop severe problems.”

Humbaugh says there’s no timeline for having hepatitis C screenings in place at local health departments. But he says his office is receiving positive feedback from county health departments that want to make the screenings available.

Someone infected with hepatitis C can go years, or even decades, without showing symptoms. If untreated, the virus can lead to liver failure and death.

Hepatitis C infection is the number one cause of liver transplants in the U.S.