June WMHS Population Health Focus: Sensitive Subjects
Sensitive subjects like sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis are often difficult to talk about, but knowledge about these diseases is critical to a person’s well-being. Western Maryland Health System is calling on individuals and healthcare providers to take action to protect themselves, their partners, and their patients from these diseases.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
“Many times, a person can be infected with a sexually transmitted disease but may have no symptoms,” said Chrissy Burke, MSN, CRNP, at the Allegany County Health Department. “If a person is symptomatic, timely testing and treatment are important. If an STI is left untreated, it can lead to more serious health conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or the inability to become pregnant.”
While there is a perceived stigma to getting tested for an STI, Burke said what can happen if it is ignored is a lot scarier. “I would encourage everyone to get tested and know their status,” she said. “I understand that some people may be afraid of the stigma associated with STI testing. The scarier thing is not knowing your status and potentially passing a disease to a partner. Testing, regardless of where a person seeks care, whether it be their primary care physician, urgent care, or the local health department, is always confidential.”
The Allegany County Health Department offers confidential testing and treatment. Testing for an STI typically consists of a blood and urine specimen. If a patient is symptomatic, a pelvic exam is performed. Testing is also based upon risk factors and symptoms. The Allegany County Health Department offers a confidential STI clinic every Tuesday from 8:00 – 10:45 a.m. and 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. on a walk-in basis. STI testing may include chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, syphilis, HIV, yeast, bacterial vaginosis, herpes, and hepatitis B and C. Treatment is provided on site for patients and their sexual partners. State of Maryland lab services are also available.
People with hepatitis C may not know they have the virus.
An estimated 3.5 million persons have hepatitis C, and over half do not know it. Most people do not have symptoms, so they do not know they are infected. Testing is the only way to know.
People born between 1945-1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C.
While anyone can get hepatitis C, people born during these years are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. Hepatitis C is not part of routine testing, which is why the CDC recommends that everyone born from 1945-1965 get tested for Hepatitis C, regardless of risks.
Hepatitis C is spread primarily by blood.
Hepatitis C is spread primarily through contact with blood from an infected person. Risks for hepatitis C include recent or past injection or intranasal drug use, tattoos or body piercings in an unclean environment or using unsafe equipment, contact with blood or needles, children born to a mother with hepatitis C, people living with HIV, those with liver disease (abnormal liver enzymes) or have ever been incarcerated. Individuals who received clotting factor or a blood transfusion (before 1992) or who were ever on hemodialysis are also at risk for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C can cause liver damage and liver failure.
Over time, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. In fact, hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the number one cause of liver transplants.
Many people can get lifesaving care and treatment.
Knowing you have hepatitis C can help you make important decisions about your health. Successful treatments can eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. Recent advances have made today’s treatment shorter and more effective with cure rates above 95 percent.
The Johns Hopkins Viral Hepatitis Center recently opened a new office in Cumberland. The office is located on the first floor of the Allegany County Health Department. Hepatitis C services are provided by a team of Johns Hopkins hepatitis specialists with expertise in the field of hepatitis care from diagnosis to cure. Free, confidential hepatitis C testing is provided with same-day results. The Hepatitis Clinic hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. For information call 301-759-5101.