COLUMBIA — National Hepatitis Testing Day will be observed on May 19 in South Carolina to emphasize the importance of being tested for viral hepatitis B and C.
“Viral hepatitis is considered a ‘silent’ disease because it progresses slowly and rarely causes symptoms of liver damage until decades after infection,” said Janet Tapp, director of DHEC’s STD/HIV division. “By the time many people show symptoms, the damage to the liver can be serious.”
According to Tapp, there are an estimated 58,000 to 85,000 people living with chronic hepatitis B or C in South Carolina. It is estimated that up to 75 percent of those with chronic viral hepatitis don’t know they have it and aren’t getting treatment or making the lifestyle changes necessary to protect their lives. The consequences of these poor health choices are starting to show as the death rate from hepatitis C surpassed the death rate for HIV in 2007.
“Our community partners will offer more hepatitis C virus testing this summer through new rapid testing technologies just recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” Tapp said. “We’re working with our partners to help diagnose those who are infected with hepatitis B or C, but may be unaware of their infection.”
One of those partners, AID Upstate in Greenville, has been piloting the new rapid testing with persons who are most at risk of having HCV.
“The test is quick and simple,” said Maurice Adair, prevention program manager at AID Upstate. “It involves our doing a finger stick to collect just a small sample of blood, and results are available in about 20 minutes. If someone has a positive result, we link them to a health care provider to discuss further testing and treatment options.”
For information about the risks for hepatitis B and C and where to get tested, call DHEC’s AIDS/STD toll-free hotline at 1-800-322-AIDS (2437) or visit DHEC’s website at scdhec.gov/stdhiv.