Screenings Aim to Reduce HIV, Hep-C Infection Rates (VIDEO)

On World AIDS Day, December 1, governmental and healthcare agencies across the globe are hosting events to recognize and raise awareness about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the early stage of the disease. An estimated 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV and about 25 percent of them also have hepatitis C, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Video by George Carvalho

Baby boomers are one of the fastest growing groups of people to be exposed to the hepatitis C (Hep C) infection, says the CDC. According to the Florida Department of Health, Miami-Dade County has the highest rates of new HIV cases in the country.

The CDC report says baby boomers, when compared to other age groups, are 5 times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C. The agency cites blood and organ donations in the 1970s and 1980s as a factor. Back then, HIV screenings were not prevalent and Hep C screenings were not part of the baby boomers’ regular doctor checkups. This is why boomers are at a higher risk of being infected.

Thanks to screenings and public education, the number of new HIV cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. has been on the decline in recent years, decreasing by 9 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to the CDC. Here are other key facts from the CDC about the viruses:

  • In 2013, people aged 55 and older accounted for more than one-quarter (26 percent or 319,900) of the estimated 1.2 million people living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in the U.S.
  • In 2014, 40 percent of people aged 55 and older were diagnosed with AIDS at the time of HIV diagnosis (i.e., diagnosed late in the course of the infection).
  • Nearly 75 percent of people with HIV who report a history of injection drug use also are infected with the Hep C virus.
  • People born during 1945-1965 account for nearly 75 percent of all chronic Hep C infections in the U.S.
  • From 2012 to 2013, rates of acute hepatitis C increased 33 percent among blacks/African Americans, 28 percent among whites and 5 percent among Hispanics/Latinos.
Routine HIV, Hep C Screenings at Homestead Hospital

Homestead Hospital, a not-for-profit community hospital in deep south Miami-Dade County, serves an area populated with baby boomers and African-Americans. While both the HIV and Hep C viruses can exist without symptoms for many years, they can be managed effectively when caught early. Treatments include medications, proper nutrition and lifestyle changes.

To meet the community’s needs, and based on revised recommendations issued by the CDC, Homestead Hospital started a routine HIV, Hep C screening program earlier this year. With the help of a $500,000 grant from Gilead Sciences, the hospital tests all Emergency Center patients who are prescribed a blood test during their visit for HIV and HCV. Several thousand patients have been screened to date. Patients can choose to opt-out of being tested.

“The screening program is very important and helpful in preventing the spread of these viruses,” said Sherine Craig, R.N., director of emergency services at Homestead Hospital.

In addition to the screening tests, the program at Homestead Hospital makes available Linkage To Care Specialists, who help guide people who test positive through the medical system to ensure they receive the care and medication needed to manage their health.

“A lot of people infected are unaware of their status,” adds Ms. Craig. “It’s important they get the proper medical care and medications as soon as possible.”

Miami-Dade Recognizes World AIDS Day

The Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County (DOH-Miami-Dade) is recognizing World AIDS Day with several events throughout the community, including educational fairs and free screening tests.

“World AIDS Day [is] an opportunity to honor those living with HIV – the families, friends, caregivers and communities who support them,” the DOH-Miami-Dade said in a news release. The Department encourages individuals to get tested for HIV and for those living with HIV to seek medical care. “Getting tested and treated can save your life and prevent new infections,” the statement said.

Click here for the schedule of county-sponsored events, or call (305) 643-7420, for more information about the county’s HIV prevention and control program.

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