FoundCare, Inc. is offering free hepatitis testing to patients during May’s national Hepatitis Awareness Month.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, often caused by a virus, and the most common types are A, B and C. Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable liver disease, but cases are on the rise in South Florida. According to the Florida Department of Health, since February, 19 persons with hepatitis A have been reported in Martin County and eight persons in Palm Beach County. In Martin County, 14 persons have been hospitalized, and three have passed away due to complications related to hepatitis A infection. Infected persons range in age from 27 to 87 years. Eight persons are known to be linked to others that had hepatitis A and five people report additional risks for hepatitis A infection including drug use and homelessness.
“Hepatitis A is spread through feces of infected people,” said Dr. Leslie Diaz, Infectious Disease Specialist and Medical Director at FoundCare’s North Palm Beach office. “Vaccination and hand-washing are the two ways to combat the spread. Symptoms of the virus can present for up to two weeks without the patient feeling sick, but during that time the infected person can spread the virus to others. Symptoms usually start two-to-six weeks after infection and last less than two months. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, diarrhea, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice (yellow skin or eyes). Alcohol-based sanitizers do not kill hepatitis A germs. The only way to rid hands of the virus is to wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.”
“It’s important to know that the vaccine for Hepatitis A is very effective and highly recommended for people who travel, or who have chronic diseases such as diabetes, COPD, renal failure, HIV, or Hepatitis B or C,” said Dr. Diaz. FoundCare offers vaccines for both Hepatitis A and B; there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). “For some people, hepatitis B is an acute, or short-term, illness, but for others, it can become a long-term chronic infection. Risk for chronic infection is related to age at infection: approximately 90 percent of infected infants become chronically infected, compared with two-to-six percent of adults. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, including cirrhosis or liver cancer,” said Dr. Diaz.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that typically produces no symptoms. “Over many years, hepatitis C can lead to severe liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer,” said Dr. Stella Medina Lewis, an Infectious Disease Specialist at FoundCare’s main site in West Palm Beach. Most of those infected are unaware that they have the disease. Anyone can get hepatitis C, but three in four people diagnosed are part of the “baby boomer” generation. The CDC recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 be screened for hepatitis C.”
Because it is so important that people get tested, FoundCare is offering free hepatitis A, B and C testing for current patients.
“We are providing free hepatitis screening to our patients because everyone deserves quality healthcare, especially to prevent a potentially fatal disease,” said Yolette Bonnet, CEO of FoundCare. “We pride ourselves on providing quality healthcare for everyone, regardless of economic or insurance status, and we are working hard to identify and treat these preventable diseases before they become life-threatening.”
FoundCare, Inc., provides quality healthcare to the Palm Beach County community, including infectious disease specialists with experience in diagnosing and treating hepatitis. To meet its mission of fulfilling unmet healthcare and social service needs of individuals and families, FoundCare offers pediatrics, adult medicine, chronic disease management, behavioral health services, dentistry, laboratory work and X-rays, and an on-site pharmacy – all as a one-stop shop at its West Palm Beach location. FoundCare uses a sliding-fee scale based on household size and income, and no one is turned away for inability to pay for services. Of patients reporting their incomes, more than 80% were living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More than half were either covered by Medicaid or had no health insurance at all.
FoundCare, Inc. is a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center that accepts most insurance plans, Medicaid, Medicare and self-pay on a sliding fee scale that is based on income and family size. For more information about FoundCare or to register as a new patient, please call 561-HEALTHY (561-432-5849) or visit www.foundcare.org.