MLT As It Relates to Hepatitis

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Today is World Hepatitis Day. And, because this disease often is diagnosed and dealt with by one of our Concorde careers - Medical Laboratory Technician - we thought we'd take a closer look at what hepatitis is and how it is dealt with by the medical lab technician.

We sought the expertise of Kevin McHugh, MSCLS, AHI(AMT)CCP, CLS(NCA), MLS(ASCP)CM, Medical Lab Technician Program Director at Concordes campus in Memphis, Tenn. to sort out the whats, wheres, and whys of hepatitis. What it is, how it's contracted, how it's treated in the lab and how patients are treated.

What is hepatitis?

The truth about hepatitis lies within the word itself, McHugh said. The term "hepatitis" refers more to a symptom of a bigger systemic issue rather than a disease itself. The word "hepatic" means liver, and the suffix "itis" means inflammation. Therefore, inflammation of the liver due to some pathologic condition is known as hepatitis.

We think of viral hepatitis when we think of hepatitis. It is a disease with an acute onset that can remain in a dormant stage in our bodies for decades.

"There is a commercial on TV currently that states one in 30 baby boomers have Hep C and don't know it," McHugh said. "If this prevalence is correct, it is considered significant."

"This latent form of hepatitis has an asymptomatic presentation, which is why so many people have no idea they have contracted it until it starts to cause health problems. The disease can be quickly exacerbated with the use of alcohol and Acetaminophen."

Symptoms of viral hepatitis, McHugh said, can be as benign as mild jaundice and dark urine. It can be as morbid as major, persistent abdominal pain. It also can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer which usually are terminal.

"This type of hepatitis is caused by a virus and as such is transmitted through body fluids, especially blood via blood transfusions or IV drug use or sexually, which is why it remains renounced by society," McHugh said.

The role of Medical Lab Technician in dealing with hepatitis

According to McHugh, there are five known types of viral hepatitis - A, B, C, D, and E.

"Of main concern to us as laboratorians is Hep C or HCV," he said. "HAV and HBV currently have vaccines and HDV and HEV are rare in industrialized countries. As laboratorians, we constantly are in contact with all types of body fluids, and Hep C can remain alive ex vivo for weeks on lab benches or countertops."

McHugh said the Medical Lab Technician uses "standard precautions" in the lab, which means treating every specimen as if it is highly contagious. MLTs also wear personal protective equipment (PPE) which consists of gloves and lab coats. It's an ingrained piece of the lab assistant job description.

"However," he said, "Hep C still remains our No. 1 concern, even over HIV/AIDS. Hep C is controllable with the use of interferon and protease inhibitors, and some clinicians claim a cure, though that is largely unsubstantiated."

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