Free Hepatitis C testing in May

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 8, 2014

Throughout May, people born between 1945 and 1965 are eligible to receive free Hepatitis B and C testing at county health departments.

State Epidemiologist for the Mississippi Department of Health Dr. Thomas Dobbs said those born during that time period are at chronic risk of having Hepatitis B or C.

Dobbs said that nationwide, people in that age range account for 75 percent of the population diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

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Previous to 1992, blood products were not tested for Hepatitis C but that practice has since changed, Dobbs said. Now that Hepatitis C has been characterized as a disease, the department of health works to prevent the spread of the disease and educates the public on exposure risks and prevention methods, Dobbs said.

If Hepatitis C goes untreated, it can cause inflammation of the liver, which leads to cirrhosis and liver cancer, which can both be deadly, Dobbs said. These outcomes can take between 30-40 years to develop.

While Hepatitis A and B typically heal without medical intervention, 85 percent of people with Hepatitis C will have chronic infection that will not clear up on its own.

Dobbs encourages the public to be tested by either their regular physician or at the county health department. He said once it is identified, Hepatitis C could be treated and possibly cured. It also prevents those with the disease from spreading the virus to others, Dobbs said.

“There are a new series of treatments that are becoming available now that look like they will lead to a 90 percent cure rate in 12 weeks,” Dobbs said.

Hepatitis B on the other hand can only be treated and not cured, Dobbs said.

The health department will also be screening for Hepatitis B because it’s more contagious than Hepatitis C, but 90 percent of those with the disease will “spontaneously cure themselves,” Dobbs said.

Those with a history of intravenous drug use, having sexual partners with Hepatitis B or C and those born between 1945 and 1965 are encouraged to seek testing, whether at the county health department or through their regular physician.

The Pearl River County Health Department is located at 7547 Highway 11 North in Carriere. To make an appointment or to speak with someone at the health department, call 601-798-6212.