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Hep A/B Vaccinations Available for MSM in NYC
  Hep Hep Hurray!
Hep Team NYC tackles hepatitis among men who have sex with men

Monday, May 29, 2006
Hep Team NYC is ready to play ball. Their opponent? Hepatitis, a liver disease that can be sexually transmitted. Their game plan? Raise awareness among gay and bisexual men that Hepatitis A and B are preventable by vaccination and that free vaccinations are available.
"There is a crying need for public education about the increased risks and the need to be vaccinated," said Harold Levine, the national coordinator for the Hep Team, a national healthcare initiative that scored a wide success last summer in Chicago. All health providers there who were queried said that more patients asked for the vaccine, and more than 800 doses of the vaccine were administered at community events.
The Hep Team NYC works with Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). The GlaxoSmithKline group of companies has provided support for the program, according to Levine.
The 10-week initiative, launched May 24, includes outreach workers, dressed in athletic uniforms, who will disseminate information at clubs, street fairs, Pride festivals and other events. An ad campaign will appear in print media and on phone booths. And the web site also offers information.
Hepatitis B vaccinations have been available for more than 20 years, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Hep A vaccine. Still, Levine said, up to half the population may not be protected.
According to a survey of gay and bisexual New Yorkers, as many as 41 percent of respondetns may not have received even one dose of vaccine, 40 percent had no plans to be vaccinated, and 52 percent had seen no information on Hep A and B.
ABC's of Hepatitis
All three forms of hepatitis (A, B and C) are liver diseases caused by a virus. Hep B and C can become chronic and fatal. There is no vaccine for Hep C.
Hep A is passed from human feces, which can appear in contaminated food and water. It can also be transmitted sexually if even "microscopic, imperceptible amounts" of feces are transmitted, Levine said. "Handling a condom or a sex toy used for anal sex, and rimming could transmit Hep A." Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and jaundice (when the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow).
Hep B is transmitted in body fluids, such as blood, semen and saliva. According to the Hep Team's web site, Hep B is 100 times more contagious than the HIV virus. Hep B can be spread through sex, needles and unsanitary tattooing and piercing practices. Symptoms are similar to Hep A.
Hep C is mostly transmitted through blood, such as sharing needles and getting tattoos. "Now the Centers for Disease Control says Hep C can be transmitted through blood to semen," said Jay Laudato, executive director of Callen-Lorde. "Blood to blood exposure can happen even if there's no visible blood\through abrasions on the skins, particularly in anal sex." It may take years for symptoms to develop. Hep C is not preventable by vaccination.
MSM and Hepatitis
Both Levine and Laudato said that hepatitis is difficult to track because many cases are not recorded. "But STDs"\sexually transmitted diseases\"tend to travel in clusters," said Laudato, "and we have seen really big increases in the amount of syphilis and gonorrhea the past few years."
"One of the things we have seen is an almost doubling of Hepatitis C," Laudato continued, "so we know that people are being exposed to hepatitis."
Full vaccinations include two to three shots during six to 18 month period, depending on the vaccination; a combination vaccine is now available.
Hep Team's Levine said that research shows that men older than 35 are less likely to have been vaccinated. If you are not sure whether you were vaccinated or whether you finished the proper dose, your doctor can give you a blood test for hepatitis immunity.
"There are no negative affect of being vaccinated if you are already immune," Levine said.
"The vaccine is very safe and well-tolerated," Laudato said.
Men who are uninsured or who are uncomfortable talking about hepatitis with their doctors can get free vaccinations at the city health department's various clinics.
Hep vaccinations are also available at Callen-Lorde (356 West 18th Street).
For more information and a complete list of clinics, visit
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