40K-plus patients screened for hepatitis C

BY STAFF REPORTS
11/13/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to a Cherokee Nation Communications release, the tribe’s Health Services has screened more than 40,000 tribal citizens for hepatitis C after becoming the first tribe in the country to launch an elimination project two years ago with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker declared Oct. 30 as Hepatitis C Awareness Day in the CN as tribal and Health Services officials gathered for a proclamation signing ceremony.

The release states the tribe’s goal is to screen 80,000 patients between age 20 and 65 for hepatitis C during a three-year period. In October 2016, the tribe had screened 23,000 patients.

“When this program started in 2015, we had high hopes for what it would mean for the long-term health of Cherokee Nation citizens,” Baker said. “The positive results have been beyond even our highest expectations. We have treated and cured more than 680 people with a 90 percent success rate. That success is allowing people once afflicted with the hepatitis C virus to live healthier and happier lives. The Cherokee Nation Health Services staff has collaborated with international infectious-disease experts to create and sustain this modern health care blueprint. It’s not often a disease can be completely eliminated from a citizenry, but it’s something we are achieving in the Cherokee Nation with our hepatitis C efforts.”

Of those screened, about 1,200 patients tested positive and more than 680 patients are either currently being treated for hepatitis C or have been cured.

“The Cherokee Nation is demonstrating to other communities across the United States how to effectively test and treat those living with hepatitis C and prevent new infections, so that someday the threat of hepatitis C will be eliminated,” Dr. John Ward, director of CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, said.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, usually through the transfer of blood. Most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles, through unlicensed tattooing or because they had a blood transfusion before 1992. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for about 70 percent of people who become infected, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection, according to the CDC.

Dr. Jorge Mera, Health Services’ Infectious Disease director, said the project continues to gain momentum with his office looking more at prevention of hepatitis C and the potential increase from the opioid crisis happening throughout the United States.

“Our efforts now need to be directed at preventing hepatitis C, which in the United States today is driven by injected drug use,” Mera said. “Prevention strategies include expanding our medication-assisted treatment program for opioid addiction. We are also beginning a serious discussion about needle- and syringe-exchange programs.”

Health Services has partnered with the CDC and the Oklahoma Department of Health to track and share knowledge. For more information about the elimination project or to get screened, visit http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Health/HealthCentersHospitals.aspx.

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