KY becomes first US state to require hepatitis C testing for pregnant women

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky has become the first state in the nation to require that pregnant women be tested for the hepatitis C virus.

The disease can easily spread from mother to child, so starting this month, pregnant women in Kentucky must be screened.

Brittany Gensheimer is about to have her first child – a girl. Like most new moms-to-be, she has one main concern. “Definitely want a healthy baby. That's the main thing,” she said.

To increase the chances for a healthy baby, Kentucky doctors now must test their pregnant patients for the hepatitis C virus.

“We have seen an uptick in the number of Hepatitis C cases in the state,” said Dr. Nicholas Ryan, an OB/GYN with Norton Healthcare.

The increase is primarily because of the opioid epidemic. Hepatitis C is transmitted through the blood. Sharing needles is fueling the spread of the disease. Hepatitis C can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, even death.

“The key is diagnosing it early, and getting that patient or that baby into treatment early,” said Ryan.

The General Assembly passed the mandatory testing law during the 2018 session, and Gov. Matt Bevin signed it.

“It's just a great moment for Kentucky, and a really great moment to make sure that we take care of our women and our children,” said Michelle Rose, a population health researcher with Norton Healthcare.

Rose said mandatory testing is a critical step toward controlling the disease. “We treat them before they have more children, and we also follow the children to make sure the children, if they are infected, then they get treated,” said Rose.

One big problem with Hepatitis C is, sometimes, there are no symptoms.

“Even though you may consider yourself at a very low risk for Hepatitis C, you never know,” Ryan said.

That is why Gensheimer said adding one more test is more than worth it for her peace of mind.

“Always want to take care of the mother first, and the baby as well at the same time,” she said.

Rose said other states are now looking at mandatory hepatitis C testing. She said information from Kentucky could lead to changes in the national guidelines.

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