CN health facilities using age-related STD screenings
Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital phlebotomist Leah Eika draws a blood sample from a Cherokee Nation citizen on Jan. 13 at the Tahlequah, Okla., hospital. Hepatitis C and HIV can be tested through a patient’s blood sample if requested. STACIE GUTHRIE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – When patients go to Cherokee Nation health facilities for sexually transmitted disease screenings, their ages may determine if they are screened for Hepatitis C, HIV, Chlamydia or other sexually transmitted diseases.
For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently recommended testing everyone born between 1945-65 for Hepatitis C because the majority of people with Hepatitis C were born in that period.
CN Infectious Disease Director Dr. Jorge Mera said CN health officials hope to broaden screenings to help patients born within that time period as well as patients who have risk factors. He said it’s good to get screened if a patient received a blood transfusion before 1982, received unprofessional tattoos or used intravenous or intranasal drugs.
“By screening them just because they were born in a certain time period makes it a lot easier for the screening process to take place and we can pick up a lot of people who have an infection that they don’t know about,” he said.
Hepatitis C is considered a silent killer because many affected by it do not notice symptoms for about 20-30 years. It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. About 30-40 percent of patients who live with the infection for 20 years will develop cirrhosis. However, the Food and Drug Administration recently approved new medications that can achieve 90 percent cure rates for most of these patients.
“This is a major game changer in the practice of medicine because now we have a chronic disease that we can potentially cure (in the majority of infected people),” Mera said.
In 2006, the CDC recommended patients between the ages of 13 and 64 be screened for HIV, which if not treated will attack the immune system causing deficiency. When the immune system is attacked, patients can develop AIDS, which causes infections or tumors.
“Although we do not have a cure (for HIV) we have excellent treatments that we can give the patients and prevent them from developing AIDS so we can have an AIDS-free society,” Mera said.
The CDC recommends females between the ages 16 and 25 to take a simple urine test for Chlamydia because the disease can cause sterility. Fifty percent of the infected women do not show symptoms. Chlamydia can cause urinary discomfort, pelvic discomfort, fever and pelvic pain.
Mera said Chlamydia is easy to treat, sometimes requiring only antibiotics.
“I encourage them to please request to be tested because that way everybody will be tested and we’ll find everybody and treat everybody and we’ll have a healthier and happier community,” he said.
The Hepatitis C and HIV tests are both blood tests. Providers encourage patients to test for these when they are getting blood drawn for other reasons. They can include the test on the same blood draw.
Citizens can request these screenings at CN clinics and the W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. Screenings and results are private. If patients are positive for any STD they will be contacted directly. If negative they can find out at their next hospital visit. In Oklahoma, minors who take part in screenings can do so without their parents knowing.
Mera said many patients do not know these screenings are available, and in some cases, are afraid to take them.
“This would be like encouraging females to come get their mammogram when they have the age for it or come and get their pap smear,” he said. “Females have been educated on this and they do these tests as a part of their health evaluation. I would like them to incorporate this as a part of their health evaluation. I’m trying to empower them with education to please request to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis C or Chlamydia.”
Mera said Chlamydia screenings have about a 25 percent screening rate for all eligible females. He added that in November CN health facilities began age-targeted screenings for Hepatitis C.
HIVs screening at CN health facilities started in 2012 with only 3 percent of eligible CN citizens being screened. A year later, it’s 17 percent.
“That’s means 17 out of 100 citizens that should have been screened were screened,” Mera said. “The improvement has been tremendous. We still have 83 percent of the population to screen and we need them to come and request the screening test.”
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