Local VA Medical Center part of crucial Hep C research

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Image: MGN(WCAV)
Published: May. 15, 2019 at 4:45 PM PDT
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Murphy Christopher served in the Army from 1972 to 1975. During that time he contracted Hepatitis.

“They isolated me for a few weeks. Then released me and sent me back to my unit overseas,” says Christopher.

He didn't give the disease much thought until a blood test decades later at the VA showed he had Hepatitis C. Christopher says he had no symptoms.

“It was kind of scary to think that, well, this could be, at some point, I could die from this,” he said.

At the time Interferon was the only treatment available. The side effects were worse than the disease, Christopher says.

But doctors at the Reno VA Medical Center told him to hold on. There was a new treatment coming, one that the VA Medical System says was on the forefront.

He says he got the call, and within two to three weeks of treatment, he was virus-free.

“Lovin' it,” Christopher says of his life Hepatitis C-free.

Christopher is one of 528 veterans cured of Hepatitis C at the Reno VA Medical Center. That's after the team there made 13,906 contacts beginning in 2014.

No other VA facility in the country can come close to those numbers.

“Blanket calls, and blanket letters, anyone between that birth cohort of 1945-1965,” says Dr. Kim Jacques, a VA Clinical Pharmacist with the VA Medical Center in Reno. “We wanted them in for testing. And actually we were one of the worst facilities at first. We could not figure out why we were so low. And then we took a different stance. We've got to do something different. And now we are number one in terms of testing Hep C,” she says.

Dr. Jacques says the research done with Hepatitis C at the Reno facility and elsewhere around the country has allowed the Hepatitis C medications to change and better suit various patients nationwide diagnosed with the disease.

Even with more than 13,000 patients, she says there are still 200 veterans in their service area who they've tried but been unable to make contact.

Dr. Jacques says those veterans will benefit from a blood test to see they have Hepatitis C. A positive test means there is a cure.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019