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updated: 3/28/2013 6:52 PM

Free hepatitis B testing Saturday in Elgin

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Immigrants from Asia and Africa will have a chance to get free testing for hepatitis B -- followed by vaccinations if necessary -- Saturday in Elgin thanks to an event organized by the Lao American Organization of Elgin.

It'll be the first time people will get the entire package for free. In previous years, testing was free, but vaccinations came at a discounted cost of about $90, said May Saengpraseuth, women and health services program director for LAOE. The regular cost of the entire package is $300 to $400, she added.

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The event targets men and women 18 and older who've never been vaccinated against hepatitis B.

On-site translation will be available in Lao only, so people who don't speak English should come with someone who can translate for them, organizers said.

The event is part of a hepatitis B program run by Asian Health Coalition, based in Chicago, and funded by a $150,000 grant from the Centers for Disease and Control.

The goal is to screen 1,500 people by this fall by partnering with 10 organizations and community health clinics in the Chicago metro area, said Edwin Chandrasekar, executive director of Asian Health Coalition.

In the United States, less than 1 percent of the population is affected by hepatitis B, but its prevalence can reach 20 percent among immigrants from certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and Asian immigrants from countries including Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, Chandrasekar said.

Hepatitis B can be transmitted via blood only, and the virus can live outside the body -- such as in old blood stains -- for up to a week, he said. Left untreated, the disease evolves into liver cancer, he said.

"It's very treatable," he said. "There are very good therapeutic medications and drugs out there that you can live a long and healthy life."

Those who participate in Saturday's event will get their blood drawn and receive results a few days later. If the result is positive they will need to seek treatment from a doctor.

If the result is negative, they will be eligible to get the free vaccine, administered with three shots over six months.

In past years, about 20 people showed up at each event, but this year LAOE expects at least 80 to 100 people, Saengpraseuth said.

"Our outreach is not just Elgin, but also to the Rockford and Aurora areas," she said.

"Because the program has been in existence for three years prior, the community health worker has done a really good job of educating the community. It's already kind of a buzz word," Saengpraseuth said.

The event will be from 1 to 3 p.m. at Senior Services Associates, off the entrance at 205 Fulton St. For more information visit laoelgin.com or call (847) 695-4505.

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