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Article updated: 5/16/2013 7:10 PM

Health department hosts free Hepatitis Health Fair

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By Lake County Health Department

In observance of the second National Hepatitis Testing Day, the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center (LCHD/CHC) will host a free hepatitis health fair on May 20 in the lobby of the Lake County Courthouse and Administrative Complex, 18 N. County Street in Waukegan, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The Health Department and its community partners, including Walgreens, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, YWCA Lake County, Loyola University Health System and GlenLake Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre, will provide information and education about hepatitis prevention, care and treatment, specifically on hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Free blood pressure screening and general information related to overall health and well being will also be available.

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an action plan for the prevention, care and treatment of viral hepatitis. Part of that plan was the establishment of National Hepatitis Testing Day to help reduce the stigma associated with hepatitis, to increase awareness of the disease, and encourage testing for viral hepatitis in all communities. This year, May 19th has been designated as National Hepatitis Testing Day.

"It is estimated that one in 12 people worldwide are living with either chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C," said Tony Beltran, the Health Department's Executive Director. "One in three people have been exposed to both viruses, and many may not realize they have it."

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be spread by:

• sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs,

• needle stick injuries in healthcare settings,

• being born to a mother who has hepatitis B or hepatitis C,

• sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person's blood, such as razors or toothbrushes,

• having sexual contact with a person infected with viral hepatitis B/ hepatitis C.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to hepatitis as a hidden epidemic. Many adults born between 1945 and 1965 have hepatitis C, but don't know it. It has been estimated that one in 30 baby boomers are infected with this virus. Found early, however, hepatitis C can be treated and, in some cases, cured.

Because it can take up to 20 years before symptoms of hepatitis infection appear, many people live with the infection but never know their status. Untreated chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Currently, there are vaccines available for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, but not for hepatitis C.

The Health Department's Sexually Transmitted Infections program offers free HIV counseling and testing Monday through Friday at the Belvidere Medical Building, 2400 Belvidere Road in Waukegan. Information about screening for other sexually transmitted diseases including viral hepatitis is also available. For more information, contact the Health Department at: (847) 377-8450.

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