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Giving Thanks for Veterans who Battle Hepatitis C

Excerpt from “Military Veterans and Hepatitis C HCV Advocate November 2013

According to the U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) website states, “The true prevalence of hepatitis C infection among veterans is unknown.” Here is what we do know:

  • The VA’s epidemiologists estimate that veterans have a minimum of a three times higher HCV risk than the general population[i].
  • A study published by Sloan and colleagues showed a prevalence of more than 10 times the general population.[ii]
  • Among HCV-positive veterans, the majority served during the Vietnam War era (~63%) and the post-Vietnam rate is around 18%. Those serving during WWII and the Korean War had roughly 4% each. Those serving in the Persian Gulf had less than 3% of HCV infections. The prevalence in active duty military personnel appears to be lower than the prevalence in veterans. However, that prevalence exists.
Veterans and Hepatitis C

Veterans have a high rate of hepatitis C

When writing this article, I talked with quite a few veterans whose only risk factor was the military’s former practice of using air guns for administration of vaccines.  Air guns, AKA multi-use-nozzle jet injectors, are needleless medical devices that penetrate skin using high-pressure fluid. Multiple published studies have demonstrated that jet injectors have the capacity to transmit significant amounts of blood and with it, the potential to transmit blood-borne pathogens. Picture a line of recruits all being vaccinated from a single device much like a pneumatic tool and you get the idea.

What does the VA say about jet guns as a possible mode of transmission? “There has been considerable interest expressed by veterans and organizations representing them concerning the possible relationship between hepatitis C virus infection and immunization with jet injectors (air gun injection) or other military-related blood exposures. Although there have been no case reports of hepatitis C being transmitted by a jet gun injection, it is biologically plausible.

Any veteran enrolled in the VA health care system who has concerns about hepatitis C infection, because of jet gun injectors, other blood exposure during military service, any of several risk factors, or for any other reason, is welcome and encouraged to request testing for hepatitis C at his or her nearest VA hospital.

If you are a veteran, be sure you are tested for hepatitis C. The first goal is to get medical care. If you want to file a claim, there is precedence. In 2005 the Board of Veterans Appeals ruled in favor of a veteran’s claim that he contracted hepatitis C in service as a result of his receiving shots via a multi-use jet gun injector.

Thank you for your service. I wish we could do more to show our appreciation.

Further Information

[i] Kralovic SM, et al. National Hepatitis C Surveillance Day in the Veterans Health Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mil Med 2002;167:756-759

[ii] Sloan KL, et al. Hepatitis C Tested Prevalence and Comorbidities among Veterans in the US Northwest. J Clin Gastroenterol 2004;38:279-284

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