The Department of Veterans Affairs Wilmington Medical Center recently sent a letter to enrolled veterans encouraging them to be tested for hepatitis C virus.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all persons born between 1945-65 be tested for hepatitis C virus, the VA is offering testing for all enrolled veterans as a preventive part of their health care. While early hepatitis C infection may not cause symptoms, over many years it may cause liver disease, including cirrhosis, liver failure or even liver cancer.

During just the first week following the letter being sent, more than 200 new screenings for hepatitis were completed resulting in three percent newly diagnosed hepatitis C patients. In comparison, between October and December 2016, there were 442 hepatitis C screens that resulted in approximately three percent positive results.

Hepatitis C is a virus carried in the blood that can cause liver disease. Hepatitis C can be spread by recreational drug use, needle sharing, accidental needle sticks, sharing of personal care items like a razors or toothbrushes, tattoos or body piercings, receiving a blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, long-term kidney dialysis, being a Vietnam-era veteran and, in rare instances, sexual contact with someone who is infected with the virus.

Veterans who wish to be tested for hepatitis C may contact their primary care team, request testing directly at the outpatient lab at the Wilmington VA or at any of the community clinics in Dover, Georgetown, Vineland, Northfield or Cape May. Once test results are completed, veterans will receive a follow-up letter or a phone call explaining the results.

For information, visit hepatitis.va.gov and hepatitis.va.gov/patient/hcv/index.asp.