The hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas, which already spawned a training video for the nation’s medical professionals and a nationwide campaign for safe injection practices, now is the catalyst for a resource guide for individuals who come down with the disease.
Southern Nevada Health District’s chief health officer, Dr. Lawrence Sands, and patient advocate Evelyn McKnight will unveil a resource "toolkit" for patients and their families at a press conference today .
That kit will be distributed to primary care doctors throughout Southern Nevada to give to new hepatitis C patients. It includes information on possible treatments, transmission, symptoms, coping mechanisms and diet. It also deals with how patients should let loved ones know they have the disease that is contracted through infected blood — and how relationships may have to change.
"Basically, it has all the information I wish I had when I came down with the disease," McKnight said Tuesday before leaving her Nebraska home for Las Vegas.
McKnight heads Hepatitis Outbreaks National Organization for Reform, or HONOReform. She first became known to Nevadans in 2008 when she testified at a Legislative Committee on Health Care hearing in the wake of local health officials urging 50,000 patients to be tested for hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases because of unsafe injection practices at clinics run by Dr. Dipak Desai.
"We saw during the outbreak that people had so many questions that needed to be addressed," Sands said. "A good thing about this it will soon be on line as well."
Karen Morrow, a Las Vegas secretary who contracted the disease at a Desai clinic, also will be on hand. She says it is imperative for those who come down with the disease to have as much information as possible.
"You’re just so frightened, you want to know what is going on," she said recently before she spoke at the National Press Club about her battle with the disease.
On average, statistics reveal that there are fewer than five hepatitis C cases per year in Las Vegas. Only acute cases, where there is a clearly defined onset of symptoms such as loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, are reported to the health district.
About 80 percent of people infected with the disease have what is known as chronic hepatitis — they have no symptoms and may never know they have the disease until severe liver problems develop later in life.
Based on results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 2 percent of the general population would test positive for hepatitis C infection.
Hepatitis C is more common in older people, often those who received blood transfusions before new safety measures were taken in 1992 and those who used drugs intravenously.
After contracting the disease during an earlier hepatitis C outbreak in Nebraska, McKnight has used settlement funds to spearhead efforts across the country to safeguard against further outbreaks. It was her work that led to the Safe Injections Practices Coalition, a national public health education and awareness initiative that carries the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stamp of approval.
Amanda Reichert, who worked on the resource guide for the health district, said a key part of the guide is a listing of support groups for Las Vegans.
"People have to know they’re not alone," she said.