Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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VA Offers New Treatment for Veterans with Hepatitis C

November 12, 2002

VA Offers New Treatment for Veterans with Hepatitis C

Houston VA Medical Center has one of the highest numbers, nationwide, of treated hepatitis C patients.

Released: 2002/11/12

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Less than 10 days after a new treatment for hepatitis C was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made it available to enrolled veterans.

"We take care of more patients with this debilitating liver disease than any other health system in the country - more than 70,000 a year," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "These veterans deserve the best, most responsive care we can offer, including the very latest, approved treatments."

The Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC) has treated more than 330 veterans for hepatitis C in the last four years, and last year, saw more than a 50 percent increase in the number of treated patients.

Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver, causing tissue damage and, in some cases, permanent liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring) and liver failure. It is a leading reason for liver transplantation. Hepatitis C has been recognized as a cause of liver disease for about a decade, and testing has been available only since 1992.

The treatment approved by the FDA on October 16, 2002 is called "pegylated interferon alfa-2a." VA has made arrangements with the manufacturer to ship the new drug to VA facilities sooner than any other medical system.

"We are getting this drug in the shortest time possible to facilities that have the most need," said Secretary Principi.

Several advances in treating hepatitis C, particularly with the introduction of the "pegylated interferons," include drugs that act against the hepatitis C virus used alone or in combination with other drugs.

Through VA's national hepatitis C program, which has been in place about two years, veterans with hepatitis C receive the most appropriate medical care, including:

  • Counseling for risk factor identification and disease prevention;
  • Systematic screening and testing;
  • Proactive patient and clinician education;
  • Liver transplantation if clinically necessary; and
  • Support services such as substance abuse and mental health care.

VA has screened more than 2.6 million veterans for hepatitis C risk factors since the system-wide policy was established in 1999. To better manage and improve patient care, VA created a national case registry of patients.

Over 500 veterans have received vaccination against hepatitis A and/or B in the HVAMC Hepatitis C Clinic. Each patient who is seen in Hepatitis C Clinic is fully evaluated for the need for vaccination, and vaccinations are administered accordingly. The HVAMC now has one of the highest number of treated patients for hepatitis C in VA network #16 and one of the highest numbers nationwide.

"The Houston VA Medical Center has taken a vigorous, aggressive approach to this relatively new disease," said HVAMC Chief of Staff Dr. Thomas Horvath. "We are managing hepatitis C infection through a comprehensive approach to prevent disease transmission and long-term complications. This is a model for how other large systems can manage this serious disease."

For further information on hepatitis C, see www.va.gov/hepatitisc.

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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25