Bruce Kennedy said he was feeling fine when he went for a routine blood test.

But he was alarmed when a doctor told him that he had a potentially serious virus – hepatitis C.

“It’s a shock when they tell you,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, a veteran of the Vietnam War, was one of many veterans who participated Thursday in an open house at the Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth.

Eisenhower VA Medical Center pharmacist Ben Bowman said the open house is part of a national initiative to encourage veterans to get screened for hepatitis C.

Additional open houses will be held April 20 and May 18 at the Eisenhower VA Medical Center. The screenings are free to veterans enrolled in the VA health system.

Bowman said there are approximately 3,500 VA patients in the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System who need to be screened for hepatitis C.

“We are part of a nationwide campaign encouraging hepatitis C testing and treatment,” said Joe Burks in a prepared statement. Burks is the public affairs officer for the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System.

“Since 2014, more than 60,000 veterans have received new and improved antiviral drugs to cure their hepatitis C,” he said. “Throughout the system, we have identified and are seeking out nearly 4,000 veterans to screen and treat, with Thursday’s open house being part of this campaign.”

Bowman said the screening campaign targets baby boomers born between 1945-65.

Kennedy, 69, served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army from 1966-68.

Bowman said veterans are four times more likely than other adults to have hepatitis C because of trauma experienced during their military careers as well as an increased chance of being exposed to blood, which is the transmitter of the virus.

Dr. Verra Wekullo of the Eisenhower VA Medical Center said hepatitis C attacks the liver. She said people infected sometimes do not know they have the virus.

Wekullo said progressive symptoms include jaundice, a swelled stomach and fatigue. She said hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.

Wekullo said the screening consists of a standard blood draw.

Wekullo said treatment for hepatitis C is simple and very effective. Diagnosed patients take a pill once a day for eight to 12 weeks that effectively kills the virus.

“The treatment has a 95 to 97 percent success rate,” Wekullo said.

“It’s easy,” Kennedy said. “You just take a pill every day.”

Wekullo said the VA system is reaching out to all health care providers to alert veterans to get screened.

“You go into medicine to cure disease,” Wekullo said. “This is one we can cure.”

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitus or the VA’s national website at www.hepatitus.va.gov

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