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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 July 28th World Hepatitis Day to rally support to eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island. The lighting will take place at 8 p.m. in downtown Providence. Festivities and performances begin at 7 p.m. at WaterFire Basin.

RI Defeats Hep C is a comprehensive program to prevent, screen, diagnose, evaluate, cure, and eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island.

"Community events, such as the 'C is for Cure' WaterFire Lighting, and collaborations in the areas of education, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are at the heart of our work to eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island," 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. By focusing resources and efforts where they are needed most, we absolutely can make hepatitis C a thing of the past."

In a major step forward in Rhode Island's fight against hep C, the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services announced this month that Medicaid will cover hepatitis C medication for all Rhode Island Medicaid beneficiaries living with the disease. Previously, only medication for Medicaid recipients in advanced stages of hep C were covered.

"This new policy goes to the heart of what Medicaid exists to do: ensure people, regardless of life circumstance, have the medical care and supports they need," said Medicaid Director Patrick Tigue. "Few policies have this type of direct, immediate impact on people's lives. I am thankful for the partnership that made this possible and the leadership our state continues to demonstrate in implementing responsible public health policies that put Rhode Islanders first."

RIDOH continues to work to end the epidemic in Rhode Island. RIDOH funds community partners to provide free and confidential rapid hepatitis C screening 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 brand new needles and other injecting equipment and harm-reduction counseling for people who use injection drugs.

Recent advances in medications 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 clinician who can evaluate 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 that is not spread through casual contact. It is not a classic sexually transmitted infection. Hepatitis C is only spread when blood from another person who has hepatitis C, gets put in to the bloodstream of another person. Some people acquired hepatitis C via a blood transfusion before 1992, or via hemodialysis. Others 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, 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 until very late in the disease. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. However, hepatitis C can be prevented by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, such as avoiding injection and intranasal drug use.

Of the more than three million people in the United States who are living with hepatitis C, 75% were born between 1945 and 1965. Baby boomers have a 1 in 30 chance of infection.

People for whom testing is extremely important include anyone who:

- Is a Baby Boomer; - Has HIV infection; - Was born to a woman with hepatitis C; - 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 elevated liver blood tests -- elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels; - 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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