RIDOH Announces 2023-2027 Hepatitis C Elimination Plan

With cases on the rise, Rhode Islanders advised of new Hep C screening guidelines

 

During Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and partners statewide are rolling out plans to raise awareness about hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C as major public health threats and are encouraging all Rhode Island adults and pregnant women to get tested for hepatitis C at least once.

 

RIDOH is sharing the CDC’s new hepatitis C testing recommendations in advance of Hepatitis Testing Day, which is May 19th. People with risk factors should be tested regularly. An estimated 2.4 million people are living with hepatitis C in the U.S. People can live with hepatitis C without symptoms or feeling sick, but it is a leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants. If untreated, hepatitis C can cause significant liver disease which is why it’s important to get tested. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important, because treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in eight to 12 weeks.

 

Rhode Islanders can talk to their primary care providers about getting tested for hepatitis C. Additionally, Project Weber/RENEW will be holding free and confidential testing events at its two drop-in centers (124 Broad St., Pawtucket, and 640 Broad St., Providence) from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Thursday, May 19th.

 

RIDOH, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC), and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services’ (EOHHS) Medicaid Office, in collaboration with the Rhode Island Hepatitis Action Coalition (RIHAC), this month published a new multi-year strategic plan to eliminate hepatitis C virus in Rhode Island.

 

According to data published in the new Rhode Island Hepatitis C Elimination Plan: 2023-2027, hepatitis C was a leading infectious disease case of death in Rhode Island between 2015 and 2019. The state ranks 10th overall in prevalence of hepatitis C per capita and 10th in the prevalence of the disease among non-Hispanic Black/African Americans per capita. Of the more than three million people in the United States who are living with hepatitis C, 75% were born between 1945 and 1965. Baby boomers have a 1 in 30 chance of infection.

 

“We have a bold, five year-plan to eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island,” said Acting EOHHS Secretary, Ana Novais. “Our collective actions have already made a big impact on this State. By working with our stakeholders, including those with lived experience and policy makers, we have identified all the building blocks needed for this robust public health intervention.”

 

“Thousands of people in Rhode Island are living with hepatitis C without knowing it, and hepatitis C cases are on the rise nationally. We strongly recommend that every adult Rhode Islander follow the CDC’s recommendation and get checked for hepatitis C,” said Interim Director of Health James McDonald, MD, MPH. “RIDOH is pleased to partner with the State’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Department of Corrections, and advocates from the Rhode Island Hepatitis C Action Coalition on our State’s ambitious plan to make Rhode Island a national leader in hepatitis C elimination.”

 

This plan is being developed to strengthen cross-sector partnerships to improve current systems and address gaps related to the prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of hepatitis C. Several developments in the field of hepatitis C have emerged in recent years that will play important roles in the roll-out of this strategic plan.

 

These developments include:

 

  • Increased funding to RIDOH from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to invest in HCV surveillance and prevention activities.
  • Increased federal funding and focus on overdose prevention among people who use drugs, creating opportunities to expand harm reduction and hepatitis C testing for this high priority population.
  • Passage of State legislation to create harm reduction centers and to ensure privacy and confidentiality of health services.
  • Elimination of Medicaid restrictions related to access to antiviral therapies.
  • Updated clinical guidelines and recommendations for routine opt-out screening in clinical settings, including hepatitis C screening at least once in a lifetime for all adults 18 years and older.
  • Expansion of access to hepatitis C clinical care for high-priority populations, e.g., in correctional settings, opioid treatment provider sites, and high-risk neighborhoods.

 

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, a blood-borne virus that is not spread through casual contact. It is not a classic sexually transmitted infection. Hepatitis C is only spread when blood from another person who has hepatitis C gets put into the bloodstream of another person. Some people acquired hepatitis C via a blood transfusion before 1992, or via hemodialysis. Others become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs.

 

RIDOH continues to work to end the hepatitis C epidemic in Rhode Island by funding community partners to provide free and confidential rapid hepatitis C screening to anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to hepatitis C. As highlighted in the Hepatitis C Elimination Plan, Rhode Island has one of the most comprehensive statewide community-based programs in the nation to prevent hepatitis C transmission among people who use drugs. RIDOH works closely with ENCORE, the state's needle-exchange program, to provide brand new needles and other injecting equipment and harm-reduction counseling for people who use injection drugs.

 

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. However, hepatitis C can be prevented by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, such as avoiding injection and intranasal drug use.

 

For more information, visit https://health.ri.gov/hepc.

 

Quick Facts: The ABCs of Viral Hepatitis

Viral Hepatitis

  • Millions of Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; many do not know they are infected.
  • Viral hepatitis is a leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants.
  • People with hepatitis B and hepatitis C have the greatest risk of liver cancer.  In fact, more than 60 percent of liver cancer cases are caused by hepatitis B or C.

Hepatitis A

  • Hepatitis A can be prevented with a safe, effective vaccine.
  • Unfortunately, in recent years the number of people infected with hepatitis A has been increasing because there have been multiple outbreaks across the United States.
  • Recent outbreaks of hepatitis A have primarily been from person-to-person contact, especially among people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness, and men who have sex with men.


Hepatitis B

  • An estimated 862,000 people are living with hepatitis B in the U.S.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 people with hepatitis B do not know they are infected.
  • People with Hepatitis B often have no symptoms.
  • Left untreated, 1 in 4 people with hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, including liver disease and liver cancer.
  • CDC recommends all people born in regions of the world where hepatitis B is common and other adults at risk get tested for Hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis B can be prevented with a safe, effective vaccine. In addition to groups for whom hepatitis B vaccination is already recommended, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all adults aged 19-59 years should receive hepatitis B vaccines.

 

Hepatitis C

  • An estimated 2.4 million people are living with hepatitis C in the U.S.
  • About 4 in 10 people living with hepatitis C do not know they are infected.
  • People can live with hepatitis C without symptoms or feeling sick.
  • Left untreated, hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage, liver cancer, and even death.
  • Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants.
  • CDC now recommends all adults and pregnant women get tested for hepatitis C. People with risk factors should be tested regularly.
  • Treatments are available that can cure hepatitis C.
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