The Department of Health in Flagler County is offering free screenings for hepatitis through July as part of its expanded hepatitis treatment program. Hepatitis rates continue to rise throughout Florida.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 3.5 to 5.3 million Americans are living with chronic viral hepatitis – hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Most individuals living with viral hepatitis do not know that they are infected, placing them at greater risk for severe, even fatal, complications such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. A specific blood test is the only way to know if you have viral hepatitis.
And Hepatitis C is on the rise: Baby boomers are 75 percent of Hep C cases. That’s because blood products weren’t screened for Hepatitis C before 1992, and many were likely infected when the disease was at its height during the 70s and 80s. The health department encourages resident born between 1945 and 1965 to take advantage of the free screenings, as well as people who have ever injected or snorted recreational drugs.
In Flagler, the rate of chronic hepatitis C has been rising almost every year since 2001, from a nominal rate to a rate of 127 per 100,000 in 2016, and 102 in 2017. The rate in the state is 128 per 100,000.
Rates of acute hepatitis in Flagler had fallen steadily through the 2000s, bottoming out at just over 2 per 100,000, but have been rising again yearly since 2011 and now stand at 7 per 100,000–roughly equal to the state’s rate.
According to physician Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the health department, the free screenings will benefit Flagler residents by helping those with chronic hepatitis get the care they need as soon as possible, while giving others peace of mind that they are hepatitis-free.
“Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed miraculous developments in terms of new and highly effective medications for hepatitis C. The cure rate is much higher these days and efforts have been made to reduce barriers for getting treatment, like exorbitant cost,” Bickel said. “Our health department is committed to bringing these curative treatments to as many patients as possible regardless of their ability to pay.”
Knowing your status could save your life while also protecting your friends and family. The free screenings are available by appointment at the Department of Health in Flagler County at 301 Dr. Carter Blvd. in Bunnell. Call 386-437-7350 ext. 7091 to schedule your visit.