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Hepatitis Awareness and Harm Reduction Programs

world hepatitis awareness day

Worldwide, 290 million people are living with viral hepatitis and completely unaware of it. Without finding the undiagnosed and linking them to care, millions will continue to suffer, and lives will be lost. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The three most common types in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, World Hepatitis Day is recognized to raise awareness for viral hepatitis.

Hepatitis A is an acute infection that can result in mild illness or be severe enough to result in hospitalization or, in rare cases, death. Hepatitis A has been a vaccine-preventable disease since the hepatitis A vaccine first became available in 1995. Hepatitis B often occurs as an acute infection that may or may not be identified or reported. Later, a chronic infection may develop. Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease. Hepatitis C occurs as an acute infection that is most often asymptomatic and frequently develops into a chronic infection. There is no vaccine against hepatitis C, but short-term treatment for chronic hepatitis C can clear the virus and cure the infection.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, injection drug users are at serious risk of contracting Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis B infects between 140,000 and 320,000 people every year and kills between 5,000 and 6,000 people in the U.S. Hepatitis C infects about 36,000 people in the U.S. every year, killing 8,000 to 10,000 of those infected.

The American Addiction Centers credit harm reduction programs as an effective approach to decrease the transmission of bloodborne viruses associated with needle drug use. Harm reduction programs are an evidence-based approach, meaning there is research confirming that the Harm Reduction model works. The goal of harm reduction is to reduce the risk of Hepatitis, HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and other harms that stem from substance use.

The LMAS District Health Department has a comprehensive harm reduction program. A Registered Nurse and Peer Recovery Coach take a mobile health van to locations in the LMAS district and do direct outreach. They collect used syringes in a safe manner and exchange them for clean syringes and other infection reduction supplies, like condoms. They provide education on safer substance use and give information on community resources in a non-judgmental and confidential manner. They also provide the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) and teach people how to use it. The harm reduction program will also provide immunizations for many preventable diseases like Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and testing for HIV and Hepatitis C from the mobile unit once it is safer to do so during the Covid-19 pandemic. This method also has proven to link people with substance use treatment and subsequent recovery. Participants are 5 times more likely to enter treatment with Harm Reduction programs. At this time they are using a curbside service model where participants can call 906.322.4444 for further details and location information. Program hours are Monday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm.