Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 17, 2008

Raising hepatitis awareness:

GREEN VALLEY — A few at a time ask for testing, hoping the results will say negative. Some get good news, but others learn that what they feared is true. They have hepatitis.

Area people infected with hepatitis are joining millions of others in a grim statistic: one in every 12 people worldwide is living with hepatitis B or C, and the majority of them don’t know they are infected. In the United States, more than a million people live with hepatitis B and five times that number live with hepatitis C. The latter variety is among the top 10 killers of Americans age 25 and older. Worse, symptoms may not appear until the liver has serious damage.

On May 19 a newly-formed organization, the World Hepatitis Alliance, is asking governments to drive improvements in prevention, diagnosis and treatment for people living with chronic viral hepatitis.

Physicians are required by law to report any hepatitis cases they diagnose, said Melody Rickman, RN, of the Mercer County Health Department. Health officials then work to trace anybody the patients may have contact with so they can be informed about the risks.

Personnel at Mercer Health Right, which adjoins the health department, see the human side of the statistics as local people without insurance come to the free clinic in Green Valley for hepatitis testing.

“Yes, we probably get some weeks three, and some weeks 10 people, and we get an average of five a week requesting testing because they have shared needles or live with someone diagnosed with it or have a sexual partner with it,” said Debbie Enigk of Mercer Health Right. “More than 60 percent come back positive.”

According to the state Division of Surveillance and Disease Control, West Virginia had six acute and 2,168 chronic cases of hepatitis C in 2006. Figures of the disease’s rates in each county were not available, but Mercer County has often seen larger-than-average numbers. Enigk said this could be because the county’s residents can reach a free clinic by bus, so they are more likely to seek testing. In Virginia, the Cumberland Plateau Health District reported a total of 189 hepatitis cases of all types between Jan. 2007 and Jan. 2008.

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