Along with free and anonymous HIV testing on Saturday, the Berkeley Free Clinic will also offer free testing for the rising scourge of Hepatitis A, B and C.
According to Berkeley health officials, hepatitis, especially hepatitis C (Hep C), is on the rise nationwide and already far exceeds HIV infection rates.
“This is a huge disease,” said the city’s HIV/AIDS Program Director Leroy Blea. “Nationwide there are probably 4 million people infected with Hep C compared to 1 million who are HIV positive.”
Hep C is a disease that affects the liver. In a large percentage of cases, the infection can lead to liver dysfunction, cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. According to Blea, Hep C is most often contracted through intravenous drug use but can also be transmitted through dirty tattoo needles or straws and rolled up bills used for ingesting drugs through the nose.
Blea said that in a small pilot test in Berkeley during which 100 people were randomly tested, 40 percent of those who used drugs intravenously tested positive for Hep C.
HIV Prevention Coordinator Jessie Wofsy said people involved in behavior that puts them at risk for contracting Hep C should make it a priority to be tested.
“People who have Hep C can go 20 years without seeing any symptoms,” she said.
Wofsy added that there is no cure for Hep C, but behavior modification can help prevent the disease from damaging the liver.
She added that hepatitis A and B, both of which include symptoms of low energy, yellowish complexion of the skin and gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, can be effectively treated with vaccines.
For more information about hepatitis call 1-800-6-clinic or go to www.berkeleyfreeclinic. org/services/heptev.html.