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Flagler health department offers free hepatitis screenings

News-Journal - 7/11/2019

The Department of Health in Flagler County is offering free screenings for hepatitis throughout July as part of its expanded hepatitis treatment program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 identify viral hepatitis.

[READ MORE: Hepatitis A cases soar in Volusia County to 3rd highest in Florida]

Hepatitis C also is on the rise. Baby boomers make up 75 percent of hepatitis C cases, according to a news release from the health department. 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.

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, medical director Dr. Stephen Bickel said in the release. His outlook for treating patients with hepatitis C is encouraging.

"Over the last decade, we've witnessed miraculous developments in terms of new and highly effective medications for hepatitis C," Bickel said. "The cure rate is much higher these days and efforts have been made to reduce barriers for getting treatment, like exorbitant cost. Our health department is committed to bringing these curative treatments to as many patients as possible regardless of their ability to pay."

The free screenings are available by appointment at the health department, 301 Dr. Carter Blvd., Bunnell. Call 386-437-7350, ext. 7091, to schedule an apointment.

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