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'It was one of those... either do something or die' || Campbell Co. health clinic helps Hepatitis C patients with new technology

Hepatitis C cases are on the rise in East Tennessee, and doctors said this technology will go a long way to continue combating infections.

JELLICO, Tenn. — A Campbell County health clinic has a new way to quickly and easily diagnose people with Hepatitis C.

It's a disease that slowly destroys the liver and can cause diabetes and cancer. 2,301 cases were reported in Knox County in 2018.

According to the East Tennessee Regional Health Office, outside of Knox County, Hepatitis C cases in East Tennessee increased from 25 through July of 2018 to 105 in the same time this year.

That's a 320% increase.

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Nathan Westray has received treatment for Hepatitis C, which is known as a silent killer.

"I came from a very good family, a very loving family," Westray said. "I got an injury here and there, and they give you some pain pills for it, and you realize those pain pills made you feel a whole lot better."

The pain pills led to other drug use, and to his infection.

"It takes one time, one dirty needle," Westray said.

The American Liver Foundation said more than 50% of those infected don't know they have it.

"That's the route I was heading, was death," Westray said. "When I OD'd I stopped breathing for thirty seconds, and you know I had the ambulance at my house, and it was one of those—either do something or die."

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So he did something.

A local rehabilitation center, Springs of Life, led him to Dayspring Jellico's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Geogy Thomas and the office's new FibroScan machine.

The Department of Agriculture gave the clinic an $80,000 grant for the machine. It shows doctors an ultrasound of the liver to check for liver scarring in non-invasive ways, allowing them to more easily and quickly diagnose infections so they can begin the appropriate treatment.

As Hepatitis C infections become more common, more East Tennessee hospitals are equipping themselves to deal with the virus. 

"Before you had to have the FibroScan in order to be able to be eligible for these kind of treatments," Thomas said. "And so some patients had to drive a long distance to get it. Now, as I understand it, there's a couple of FibroScanners in Knoxville, there's FibroScanners in Lexington, and nothing in between except here in little 'ol Jellico."

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Thomas said the disease affects more than just those who use drugs illegally.

"You've got to have some kind of break in the skin to be able to get in," Thomas said. "So we tell people, you can't be sharing toothbrushes, you can't be using razors, sharing razors when you're shaving. So that does introduce that virus into the skin."

Westray said he's felt love from across the community.

"You know you want to do better because you want to show everybody else that you know these people actually do care," Westray said.

And it's helped his recovery.

"Everything's really working out, which you can't deny, that's God right there," Westray said.

Thomas said current treatment options for the virus provide a 95% cure rate. Just five years ago, it was more like 40%.

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