During Hepatitis Awareness Month, public health officials in Rhode Island are making all Rhode Islanders aware of updated testing guidance for the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). According to updated national screening recommendations, all adults should be tested for HCV at least once in their lifetime. People with risk factors should be tested regularly.
Testing is critical because chronic hepatitis C is curable with antiviral medications.
The Rhode Island Hepatitis Action Coalition, which is led by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), are doing public education on this testing recommendation for Hepatitis Awareness Month, which is recognized every May. These education efforts include a new public service announcement produced by the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association. The ad will air on Rhode Island television and radio stations, in addition to being shared on social media.
"Like many other states, we know that hepatitis C cases have been on the rise in Rhode Island in recent years," said EOHHS Acting Secretary Ana Novais. "The only way for someone to know if they have hepatitis C is for them to get tested. It's important that we work together across the health and human service agencies, and in collaboration with our trusted community partners, to increase awareness of and access to testing."
"Thousands of people in Rhode Island are living with hepatitis C without knowing it. Testing is so important to find out if you are infected and to get lifesaving treatment for chronic hepatitis C. Treatments are available that can cure people with chronic hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks, said Interim Director of Health Utpala Bandy, MD, MPH. "Many community level factors impact rates of hepatitis C, including access to care. Partnering with community organizations to promote no-cost testing events is one of many steps we are taking to get at these community level factors, and to advance our work on health equity throughout Rhode Island."
An estimated 2.4 million people are living with hepatitis C in the U.S. People can live with HCV without symptoms or feeling sick, but it is a leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants. If untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause significant liver disease which is why it's important to get tested. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important because treatments can cure most people with chronic hepatitis C in eight to 12 weeks.
Rhode Islanders can talk to their primary care providers about getting tested for HCV. In addition, RIDOH's TESTING 1-2-3 service now offers an opportunity for Rhode Islanders to be tested for HCV, in addition to HIV, and/or three sexually transmitted infections (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis), without a trip to the doctor's office. This service allows people without symptoms to fill out an online questionnaire, select the types of tests that they would like, and go to the lab of their choice for testing. Testing through this program is not free, but should be covered by most insurance plans. (People should check with their insurers about coverage.) People with symptoms or additional questions should check in with a medical provider.
Additionally, two of RIDOH's funded community-based organizations are offering HCV testing events this week.
• May 19 - Project Weber/RENEW will be holding free and confidential HIV and HCV testing events at its two drop-in centers (124 Broad St., Pawtucket, and 640 Broad St., Providence) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those getting tested will receive a $10 incentive. • May 20 - Sojourner House will be offering free, confidential HIV and HCV testing at the Haus of Codec Marketplace at Dexter Park in Providence, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. A $5 incentive is being offered to people getting tested at that event.
All testing options, including free HCV rapid testing options through all RIDOH-funded community-based organizations, are listed on RIDOH's Hepatitis C testing services page.
In 2022, RIDOH, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC), and EOHHS's Medicaid Office, in collaboration with the Rhode Island Hepatitis Action Coalition, published a new multi-year strategic plan to eliminate hepatitis C virus in Rhode Island. According to data published in that plan, hepatitis C was a leading infectious disease cause of death in Rhode Island between 2015 and 2019. Rhode Island ranks tenth overall in prevalence of hepatitis C per capita and tenth in the prevalence of the disease among non-Hispanic Black/African Americans per capita. 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. Younger adults 20-39 years old now have the highest rates of new hepatitis C cases.
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 into 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.
Rhode Island has one of the most comprehensive statewide community-based programs in the nation to prevent hepatitis C transmission among people who use drugs. 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. Additionally, RIDOH helps people access medical treatment and care for hepatitis C.
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. ###