The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), together with public health organizations around the world, will observe World Hepatitis Day on Tuesday, July 28. The observation is a call to action for communities around the world to join together and focus attention on the threat of viral hepatitis and to promote actions to address it. This year, BPHC is pleased to announce the release of a comic book called Risk: Stories and Facts about Hepatitis C, to help raise awareness of the risks associated with sharing needles. BPHC will also be providing over $240,000 in combined new grant funding for hepatitis C prevention to Project Trust at Boston Medical Center and Project SHINE at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.
“We’re excited to offer these new resources to prevent hepatitis C transmission in Boston,” said Dr. Huy Nguyen, Interim Executive Director and Medical Director for BPHC. “The comic book offers a fun, non-judgmental way for healthcare providers and treatment specialists to get the word out to at-risk populations, and encourages those who do use injection drugs or are already affected by hepatitis C to seek treatment.”
The comic book, which is available in both Spanish and English versions, follows the story of Manuel, an injecting drug user, who learns about the true risks of sharing needles with his friends. It highlights common misconceptions about hepatitis C, including that it is “just like the ‘common cold’” and that “everyone has it.” The novel is the size and shape of a magazine and is intended for use in clinic waiting rooms, needle exchange sites and other community sites as it can be easily read in one sitting. The funding announced today will target programs that reach 15-25-year-olds who may be at-risk for hepatitis C infection.
“As a provider, Boston Medical Center’s Project TRUST is excited to have these new resources available for our patients. We will use the dedicated funds to promote hepatitis C awareness among our clients, many of whom come to us seeking testing, information and referrals in a non-judgmental environment,” said Jonathan Hall, Director of Public Health Programs at Boston Medical Center.
An estimated 400 million people worldwide—4.4 million in the United States alone—are affected by hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C, and 1.4 million die each year from viral hepatitis. Some people who have hepatitis will have no symptoms. Others will have fever, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, yellow color of the eyes and skin, fatigue, dark brown urine, and light colored stools. Complications from hepatitis infection include serious liver damage, liver cancer and death. While there are vaccines available for hepatitis A and B, no vaccine exists for hepatitis C.
“Unfortunately, most people living with hepatitis aren’t aware they have it,” said Dr. Anita Barry, Director of the Infectious Disease Bureau at BPHC, adding that Boston had 924 cases of hepatitis C and 344 cases of hepatitis B reported in residents of all Boston neighborhoods in 2014.
There are a number of ways a person can avoid hepatitis: hand washing, wearing gloves while handling blood and other bodily fluids, not sharing razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers and especially needles, and using condoms during sexual activity are just a few ways to help prevent infection.
For more information about the BPHC’s Hepatitis initiative, or any of its other programs, visit bphc.org.