Free HIV and hepatitis C testing and free hepatitis A and B vaccinations are available once again from the state Department of Health.
The testing and vaccination programs were suspended in May due to a staff vacancy, said Barbara Joslin, tester and counselor with the Department of Health in Maui County. With the vacancy filled, "we're trying to get it rolling" again, she said.
The HIV testing and hepatitis B vaccination are available to everyone. There are eligibility requirements for the hepatitis C test and the hepatitis A vaccination, she said.
For hepatitis C, the free testing is available to:
* People currently or with a history of injecting drugs, including hormones.
* People who received blood transfusions or blood products prior to 1992.
* People who have gotten nonprofessional tattoos/piercings.
* Sexual partners of intravenous drug users and/or hepatitis C-positive individuals.
* People with HIV.
* People who have been incarcerated.
* Children of hepatitis C-infected women.
* People with known blood exposure to hepatitis C.
For hepatitis A, the free vaccinations are open to:
* People with chronic liver damage.
* Men who have sex with other men.
* Intravenous drug users.
* People with a history of substance abuse.
The schedules and locations for the testing and vaccinations are:
* Keolahou Congregational Church in Kihei, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, open to walk-ins.
* Wailuku Health Center, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, walk-ins; and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays, by appointment.
* Haiku Community Center, noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, walk-ins.
* Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center, behind the post office, 9 a.m. to noon Thursdays, walk-ins.
The hepatitis infections need to be taken seriously because they could lead to organ failure, chronic illness and even death, Joslin indicated.
Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood or body fluid contact. The viral infection often is observed in conjunction with HIV, Joslin said. Most infections are due to illegal intravenous drug use.
There is no vaccination for this form of hepatitis.
About 80 percent of people with hepatitis C have no signs or symptoms in the early stages. The virus attacks the liver and can cause chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and cancer, according to a Health Department report titled "Hepatitis C in Hawaii." The serious consequences of hepatitis C can take 20 to 30 years to become apparent.
From 1998-2002, the Health Department tracked 350 positive hepatitis-C tests on Maui and six on Molokai, the report said. The number of new infections nationwide has declined from 240,000 in the 1980s to 30,000 in 2003.
Hepatitis A is the most common form of viral hepatitis and is transmitted through ingestion of infected fecal matter in food and water and through close personal contact including oral and anal sex, a Health Department fact sheet said. People traveling through countries where hepatitis A is common are also at risk.
Epidemics occur nationwide and in communities from time to time and during those years the numbers of reported cases can reach 35,000 nationwide, the Health Department reports.
The infection usually resolves itself in six months. There is a vaccination to prevent infection.
Hepatitis B is a very contagious virus that is transmitted through body fluids and is considered a sexually transmitted disease because the transmission fluids include blood, semen and vaginal secretions.
The most common way to get hepatitis B is through unprotected sex or from mother to baby, the Health Department said. Hepatitis B can cause chronic liver disease, which can lead to death in 15 to 25 percent of cases. There is a vaccine available to prevent infection.
"The virus can live outside the body for a long period of time, and it can have serious consequences," said Joslin about hepatitis B.
The number of new hepatitis B infections has declined from 260,000 in the 1980s to 73,000 in 2003 nationwide. The highest rate of disease occurs in people 20 to 49 years old, a Health Department fact sheet said.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which attacks the immune system. Over time and without effective treatment, HIV gradually destroys the body's defenses against disease, leaving the person vulnerable to infections and cancers, the Health Department said in fact sheets on its Web site.
Even without treatment, some people with HIV infection have no symptoms at all, some have mild health problems, while others have severe health problems associated with AIDS, which is the late stage of HIV infection.
Before the discovery of effective treatment, it commonly took 10 years or more from the time of initial HIV infection to a diagnosis of AIDS, and on average it would take another two to four years before death. New treatments have extended life expectancy significantly.
The virus is transmitted mainly through sexual intercourse, from mother to infant and via intravenous drug use.
About 750,000 people are believed to be infected with HIV in the United States, including 2,000 to 3,000 people in Hawaii, the Health Department reported.
Call 984-2129 for appointments and more information.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.