Hepatitis C Lacks Attention Needed | News | Loyola Medicine
Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hepatitis C more prevalent than HIV/AIDS or Ebola yet lacks equal attention

Loyola’s HepNet study reveals high frequency of active infection and multiple risk factors in Ghana

MAYWOOD, Ill. (February 5, 2015) — More than 180 million people in the world have hepatitis C, compared with the 34 million with HIV/AIDS and the roughly 30,000 who have had Ebola. Yet very little is heard about the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the way of awareness campaigns, research funding or celebrity fundraisers.

One of the global regions highly affected by hepatitis C is West Africa. In developed countries, hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease, is transmitted through intravenous (IV) drug use. "In West Africa, we believe that there are many transmission modes and they are not through IV drug use, but through cultural and every day practices," says Jennifer Layden, MD, PhD principal investigator on a study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. "In this study, tribal scarring, home birthing and traditional as opposed to hospital based circumcision procedures, were associated with hepatitis C infection in Ghana." 

The study was conducted by HepNet, an international multidisciplinary group of physicians and scientists. "The other important finding was that a high percentage of individuals who tested positive for HCV had evidence of active infection," says Layden. "This illustrates the need for treatment."

Discovering the source of the disease and a target population, she says, will aid in the next step of the research: how to protect and prevent the disease in Ghana.

Dr. Layden and colleagues from Loyola’s Department of Public Health Sciences organized the inaugural HepNet meeting Aug. 12 and 13, 2013, in Kumasi, Ghana. Loyola University is the lead investigator in the HepNet research, with collaboration from the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Ghana, the Centers for Disease Control and the Johns Hopkins University. This is the first published research study from the HepNet group.

"This is a small study conducted at a blood bank in a teaching hospital in Ghana," says Layden. "We have now expanded studies to test more than 5,000 individuals in Ghana."  The goal is to further understand whom is affected by hepatitis C and to identify specific next steps in intervention and prevention.

"Hep C is a chronic disease and leads to chronic liver disease,  liver cancer and cirrhosis," says Layden. "Overall, worldwide rates of liver cancer is on the rise, whereas many other cancers are on the decline or steady." Layden says the study offers hope for West Africa.

Similar studies have been conducted in Egypt, a country with high rates of hepatitis C infection. 

"Those studies helped to call attention to the widespread infection rate and resulted in getting infected Egyptians affordable medical treatment," says Layden. "We in HepNet hope our studies will do the same in Ghana and other West African countries."

Participating researchers from Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Illinois are: Jennifer Layden; Stephanie Kliethermes; Nallely Mora; Lara Dugas; Amy Luke; David Shoham and Richard S. Cooper.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.