Hawaii has the highest rate of liver cancer in U.S., and the majority of liver cancer cases in Hawaii are caused by viral hepatitis. An estimated 63,000 persons in Hawaii are currently living with either chronic hepatitis B or C.
Hepatitis B and C impact many ethnicities and ages in Hawaii, especially Asians, Pacific Islanders, and baby boomers (born 1945-1965). Unfortunately, many are unaware of their infection and do not get screened until they develop liver disease or liver cancer.
The good news: viral hepatitis can be prevented, and those with the disease can be treated. More good news: local pharmacies are joining the effort to conduct free assessments and to help people at risk get referred for screening.
National Hepatitis Testing Day
The Hawaii Department of Health in partnership with local pharmacies is drawing attention to this health issue and the importance of screenings for early detection starting on National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, 2015.
“Most people with hepatitis B or C don’t know that they have it,” stated Thaddeus Pham, the DOH
Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinator. “If undetected, hepatitis B and C can lead to liver disease, liver cancer, or even death. With hepatitis B and C screening covered by most insurance and more effective hepatitis treatments available, people have better options to take care of themselves before they become ill. They just have to get screened first.”
Partnering with Local Pharmacies
The Hawaii Department of Health is partnering with local pharmacies—including Pharmacare Hawaii, Walgreens, and 5 Minute Pharmacy— and encourages Hawaii residents to learn their risks for viral hepatitis and to request screenings from their healthcare providers.
A pharmacist will offer a simple hepatitis assessment to anyone at these participating pharmacies. These pharmacies will not offer actual tests; however, if someone is deemed at risk, they will receive a referral letter with billing codes to take to their healthcare providers. People may also go directly to their healthcare provider to request the test.
“We’re partnering with local pharmacies because we recognize the increasing role of pharmacists in our daily healthcare,” Pham said. “As patients, many of us often go to our local pharmacy or drug store more often than we go to our doctor. It is important to use every opportunity to increase awareness and screening for our ohana.”
Early Detection is Critical
“By identifying and treating these diseases early, we hope this improves patient and community health outcomes, especially since most persons at risk hepatitis B C are not regularly screened,” Pham said.
“If your loved ones might be at risk, they can now speak with a participating pharmacist to discuss appropriate testing options. We also encourage medical providers to reach out to the Hawaii Department of Health to learn more about testing recommendations. Providing these simple tests now can mean that they can have their patients avoid liver disease or even liver cancer later,” she said.
For list of participating pharmacies, see attached flyer or go to www.hepfreehawaii.org.