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Cherokee Nation gets $1.5 million grant to target hepatitis C
 
 
  Saturday, October 31, 2015 12:00 am
 
By LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON World Correspondent
 
CATOOSA - The Cherokee Nation is getting some help to address the rate of hepatitis C in northeastern Oklahoma.
 
In partnership with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oklahoma Department of Health, the tribe's Health Department recently received a one-year, $1.5 million grant to fund a study on identifying and treating hepatitis C patients among Oklahoma's Native American residents.
 
Along with additional staffing to help address the case load, the funding will help finance surveillance and epidemiology work, with an emphasis on what causal link, if any, exists between hepatitis C infection and tattooing.
 
Exposure to contaminated needles, either through intravenous drug use, medical procedures or piercings, is among the primary risk factors for the disease.
 
Other risk factors include extended reliance on dialysis for blood filtration, receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, having unprotected sex with multiple partners, being born to a mother with the virus or being HIV-positive.
 
Nationwide, an estimated 2.7 million people have the viral disease, which if left untreated can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.
 
Because the disease generally produces only mild, if any, symptoms in the early stages, it often is not detected until liver damage becomes apparent. Dr. Jorge Mera with Cherokee Nation Health Services said his department estimates that between 4,000 and 5,000 cases are within its service area, but it has screened only about a quarter of the potential cases.
 
Since January 2014, Cherokee Nation clinics have treated 274 cases of hepatitis C. More than 60 percent of those testing positive are between the ages of 50 and 69, although the grant is facilitating expanded screening for patients as young as 20.
 
"We want to encourage people to come in and get tested," Mera said. "If you belong to the Baby Boomer category, you definitely need to come in and get checked. That doesn't mean that if you're 72 and want to get screened that we won't do it. Just come in, ask, and we will screen you

 
 
 
 
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