Casa Grande Dispatch (Arizona) (02.06.13)
More than 3,000 Pinal County residents could be infected with hepatitis C and not realize it; however, if people adhered to last year’s CDC recommendation, the state could identify many of those unknown carriers. In August 2011, CDC recommended that people born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for hepatitis C, since that age group—the baby boomers—makes up approximately 75 percent of known U.S. cases. Shoana Anderson, office chief of the Arizona Department of Health Services’ (ADHS’s) infectious disease division, says that Arizona does not have data showing how many state residents have been screened since the CDC recommendation; they get reports of positive cases, but do not know how many people have been tested.
ADHS states that Arizona has approximately 80,000 hepatitis C cases of, but estimates that 30,000 people remain undiagnosed. Each year, the department receives 8,000 reports of new positive cases. In 2011, Pinal County recorded 135 newly diagnosed hepatitis C cases, not counting cases diagnosed among prisoners. According to Graham Briggs, administrator for Pinal County Public Health Services’ infectious diseases and epidemiology section, the numbers can be misleading, as many possible carriers have not yet been tested. Briggs expects that the real number of Pinal County chronic infections is similar to the estimated national numbers, and may be in the range of approximately 3,800 infections.
CDC estimates that 3.2 million people are infected with hepatitis C. It is thought that many became infected in the 1970s and 1980s. Not all county health departments offer hepatitis C testing, including Pinal County, where clinics do not provide routine hepatitis C testing but do test known contacts of hepatitis C carriers. When Pinal County receives a positive case report, they perform an investigation and make contacts. Doctors then test and evaluate at-risk people. Cheryl Mossing, Casa Grande Regional Medical Center’s laboratory director, says Casa Grande can draw blood for the hepatitis C test, but only with a mandatory physician’s order, and blood samples are evaluated off-site. Also, hepatitis C testing is not part of the hospital’s community wellness testing program; physicians must initiate the testing. Mossing notes that since CDC’s new recommendation began last August, the facility has not seen an increase in physician orders for the test.