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WaterFire Lighting Organized To Support Efforts to Eliminate Hepatitis C

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and RI Defeats Hep C invite all Rhode Islanders to attend the 'C is for Cure' WaterFire lighting on August 5th to rally support to eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island. The lighting will take place at 8 p.m. in downtown Providence.

"By uniting the community through events such as the 'C is for Cure' WaterFire Lighting and through collaborations in the areas of education, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, we can absolutely make hepatitis C a thing of the past in our state," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "This work is especially important in communities where we see higher rates of hepatitis C, such as among Baby Boomers, and among people who have used injection drugs in the past. Every single Rhode Islander who has hepatitis C can and should live a long, healthy life."

"In the United States, more people are now dying of hepatitis C than are dying of all other top-60 infectious diseases combined," said Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University and Director of RI Defeats Hep C Lynn E. Taylor, MD. "In Rhode Island, we face a particularly high disease burden. This disease takes people down at the prime of their lives. According to a 2016 Department of Health report, more than 75% of Rhode Islanders who died of hepatitis C were between the ages of 45 and 64 when they died. New medications can cure hepatitis C in most people, most of the time, safely, in 12 weeks—averting hepatitis C-related illness and death."

RI Defeats Hep C is a comprehensive initiative to treat, cure, and eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island.

In Rhode Island, hepatitis C-related deaths rose from 25 in 2005 to 102 in 2014. Additionally, the number of inpatient hospitalizations with a primary discharge diagnosis of hepatitis C increased six-fold between 2005 and 2014.

In response to these data, and in response to a recent Call to Action from the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), RIDOH continues to work to end the hepatitis C epidemic in Rhode Island. RIDOH funds community partners to provide free and confidential rapid hepatitis C testing to anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to hepatitis C. In addition, RIDOH works closely with ENCORE, the state's needle-exchange program, to provide clean needles and other injecting equipment and harm-reduction counseling for people who use injectable drugs.

Recent advances in medicine that can cure hepatitis C have made hepatitis C elimination a viable goal for Rhode Island. To achieve this goal, RIDOH is taking steps to re-visit the core components of its strategic plan to eliminate hepatitis. These core components include: • Preventing hepatitis C virus transmission and new infections; • Screening every Rhode Islander for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime, and diagnosing every case of hepatitis C; • Linking every case of hepatitis C to a provider who can care for and treat hepatitis C; • Ensuring equitable access to hepatitis C treatment for all individuals who are living with hepatitis C; and • Curing as many patients of hepatitis C as possible. Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, a blood-borne virus. Most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for 70%–85% of people who become infected with it, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. Most people who are infected with hepatitis C virus do not know it because they have no symptoms. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C; however, hepatitis C can be prevented by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting illicit drugs.

Of the more than three million people in the United States who are living with hepatitis C, 75% were born between 1945 and 1965. In addition to Baby Boomers, other people for whom testing is extremely important include anyone who: • Currently injects drugs; • Has ever injected drugs, including anyone who injected drugs once or a few times many years ago; • Has a history of intranasal (through the nose, or snorting) drug use, including those who snorted only once many years ago. An example is snorting cocaine. • Received clotting factor concentrates produced before 1987; • Has ever had long-term hemodialysis; • Has persistently abnormal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels; • Has HIV infection; • Was born to a woman with hepatitis C; • Has been notified they received blood from a donor who later tested positive for HCV infection; or • Received a blood transfusion, blood components, or an organ transplant before July 1992.

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