Halting the Hepatitis C Epidemic

Vicki Shah, PA-CBy Vicki Shah, PA-C

Over the last 10 years, I have treated and helped cure more than 1,000 people with hepatitis C of all ages and backgrounds. It’s rewarding, to say the least, when my patients can move forward with one less health burden.

My patients usually struggle with the negative connotations of drug use associated with hepatitis, but this not the only way to contract hepatitis C. It can also be transmitted from blood transfusions, mother to child, or any blood-to-blood contact like needle sticks.

These patients are not alone. About 3.4 million people have hepatitis C in the U.S., and half of them don’t know they have the infection. Interestingly, three of every four people with hepatitis C are baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1965 and infected decades ago.

The main reason why a person might not know they have the infection is that they have not been screened for hepatitis C. Other reasons include that basic labs show normal liver enzymes and there can be no symptoms until there is progressive liver disease.

Cirrhosis can be the resulting condition of untreated hepatitis C, and it increases the risk of liver cancer, the need for a liver transplant and death.

Opioid-related surge

There is also a new surge of infected young people with the increase of opioid drug use. The blood-to-blood contact occurs with sharing of needles or other paraphernalia. Next door in Indiana, there was an outbreak of HIV with over 200 people infected, and 95 percent of those people also got hepatitis C.

The outbreak was devastating to the community because it included 3 generations of families — from preteens to grandmothers.

While we as a whole health community will continue to conquer the rise in opioid drug use, we can stop the epidemic of hepatitis C across the U.S. with awareness and treatment with a short duration of oral medications.

Vicki Shah, PA-C, is a physician assistant at the Rush University Medical Center Medical Center Hepatology Clinic.

Thank You for Saving My Dad’s Life

George Allington

George Allington

By Jason Allington

Rush saved my father from certain death and made a horrific situation not only tolerable, but inspiring.

I live in Oak Park. Over the holidays, my 76-year-old dad, George Allington, came to visit from South Carolina. On the evening of Dec. 29, we were watching TV together when he took a bathroom break. A few minutes later, he called in distress, because he’d passed a frightening amount of blood.

We called 911, and the paramedics rushed him to the Rush Oak Park Hospital emergency room.

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Telling Your Loved Ones You Have Cancer

IMG_6093By Deb Song

I can still remember the day I got the call from Dr. Andrea Madrigrano, my breast surgeon at Rush.

“Deb, I’m so sorry, but it’s not going to be what you want to hear,” she said. “The lumpectomy confirms it is DCIS. You have breast cancer. The good news is, we caught it early, but we recommend a bilateral mastectomy.”

I don’t remember much after that. I tried to stay calm and ask questions on next steps. I’m a doer. Instinctively, I just set out to get this treated. My “let’s do this!” attitude kicked in.

But suddenly I felt my heart racing faster, my breath shorter, and I could not hold back the tears any longer. I started to weep uncontrollably.

I blurted out, “Oh my God. How do I tell my mom? How am I going to tell my parents I have cancer?”

On this Mother’s Day, as I plan a day with my mom, I cannot help but think back to this moment when I was finally diagnosed and staged out for surgery. How do you tell your loved ones you have cancer?

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From a Winter Vortex to a Pollen Vortex?

Patel_Payal

Payal Patel, MD, is a board-certified allergist at Rush South Loop.

By Payal Patel, MD

After surviving the polar vortex of 2019, many of us are just itching for some warm weather. But for allergy sufferers, could that itch be worse this year compared to the years past? Is this year truly the worst allergy season?

To answer that question, we must first take into account the climate pattern changes that are predicted to take place in our future. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are predicting a double to triple rise in the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels within the next century. This rise in CO2 levels, in turn leads to changes in temperature and precipitation. Namely, Earth’s average temperature is expected to rise, as will the average global precipitation.

These global changes are the perfect setup for increasing pollen in the environment. This occurs by not only increasing the pollen production by some plants, but also by extending the pollen season.

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Why Gender-Affirming Care Matters

Ravi IyengarBy Ravi Iyengar, MD

Transgender and gender-diverse individuals are not a novel concept, and the idea of existing beyond the binary of female or male is centuries old. However, this population has notoriously faced discrimination, verbal and physical abuse, some of which still continues in the health care community.

A 2015 national survey of almost 28,000 transgender and gender-diverse individuals demonstrated that a third had a negative experience with a health care provider and a quarter of patients have had to educate their own providers about care.

When we look at the complexly layered barriers to care, we have to ask ourselves — would these numbers suffice for any other population seeking care? Encouragingly, there have been great strides within the past decade driving greater advocacy for and research surrounding gender-affirming care.

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Colonoscopies Can Prevent Colorectal Cancer

By Salina Lee, MD

Despite remarkable advances in detection and treatment of colorectal cancer, it remains the second-largest cause of cancer mortality in the United States. This statistic looms despite the fact that colorectal cancer is one of the most treatable cancers there is because early detection, thus cure, is entirely possible.

What makes this unique among the other cancers for which we have screening tools is that prevention is also possible. This is because we can identify and remove premalignant lesions before they become cancer. So what accounts for the stark contrast between this grim statistic and our known ability to prevent, detect and cure this cancer? Lack of screening. The most common signs and symptoms of early colon cancer are — nothing at all. That’s why we so strongly recommend screening for colorectal cancer.

Current guidelines recommend colorectal cancer screening for adults between the age of 50 and 75.  This may start earlier for those at higher risk (family history of colorectal cancer, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, polyposis syndromes or patients of African-American descent).

After the age of 75, we recommend screening on an individual basis. There are a variety of recommended screening tests. The gold standard is the colonoscopy, which provides both screening and prevention. Not only can it detect early stage cancers, but also precancerous lesions called polyps, can be removed to potentially prevent a cancer from developing.

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Rising to the Top in Lowering Blood Pressure

Dr Hanak gives blood pressure exam to consented patient.By Michael Hanak, MD

Last year more than 23,000 patients were seen for high blood pressure as part of a visit with a doctor in one of Rush’s outpatient practices. By the end of the year, 75 percent of this group brought their blood pressure into a healthy range.

This great news was among data about various clinical measures just released this week. The turnaround puts Rush University Medical Group, known as RUMG*, in the top 10 percent of physicians who treat hypertension nationwide, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a non-profit organization that promotes health care quality. More importantly, it means that more than 17,000 of Rush’s patients significantly have reduced their risk of heart attack and stroke, and of dying from these preventable conditions.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known to be a silent killer, because people often don’t notice they have high blood pressure. Far too many are at risk: According to the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three people in the United States (75 million) have high blood pressure, and only about half (54 percent) have their blood pressure under control.

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