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National Hepatitis Testing Day – IHS now recommends hepatitis C testing for all adult patients

by Rick Haverkate, IHS National HIV/AIDS & HepC Program Coordinator
National Hepatitis Testing Day

Millions of Americans have chronic viral hepatitis, and most of them don’t know it. National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19th is an opportunity to remind health care providers and the public about who should be tested for viral hepatitis.

The Indian Health Service is releasing a new Special General Memorandum - Hepatitis C: Universal Screening and Treatment that will expand screening for the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, to all IHS patients over the age of 18 years at least once in their lifetime, with additional risk-based screening as indicated. This will not only improve health outcomes for American Indians and Alaska Natives, but can also result in long-term cost savings for the agency Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving .

HCV-related mortality among American Indians and Alaska Natives is more than double the national rate. Early diagnosis and treatment of HCV is important to prevent the development of serious complications. Highly effective treatments for HCV are available and can be successfully implemented at the primary care level with appropriate planning and support.

This new guidance will coordinate efforts in the IHS to implement and exceed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  for universal screening for HCV. The CDC recommends HCV screening for all adults born from 1945 through 1965.

Because the rates of HCV in Indian Country are disproportionately higher for those born after 1965 compared to the general population, IHS is implementing universal screening to identify those American Indian and Alaska Native individuals living with HCV who were born after 1965, and get them into treatment before major liver damage occurs.

All IHS direct care facilities will establish and implement universal HCV screening and treatment protocols in a strategic manner as part of a nationwide effort to prevent and control HCV transmission and HCV-related chronic disease.

The Eliminating Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS in Indian Country Initiative will provide treatment and case management services to prevent HCV transmission and enhance HIV testing and linkages to care in support of the administration’s Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving . The president’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  includes $25 million in new investments to expand partnerships between IHS and Native communities to address HCV and HIV.

IHS will continue to work in partnership with tribes and urban Indian organizations across the nation to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.

Related content:

Indian Health Service highlights initiative to eliminate hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS in Indian Country during National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Center of Excellence at Phoenix Indian Medical Center – Achieving Excellence in HIV and HCV Care

The Costs and Benefits of Expanding Hepatitis C Screening in the Indian Health Service Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving 

Rick Haverkate, IHS National HIV/AIDS & HepC Program Coordinator
Rick Haverkate, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, has been working with tribal public health programs since 1989. He has an MPH from the University of Hawaii and currently serves as the National HIV/AIDS and HepC program coordinator for IHS. Rick previously worked with the HHS Office of Minority Health, the National Indian Health Board, and the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, Inc.