National tour brings free hepatitis C testing and treatment to San Diego
More than two million Americans are living with hepatitis C — and don’t even know it.
The ElimiNATION Awareness Tour began in 2018, offering free hepatitis C (HCV) antibody screenings and confirmatory tests to local communities and spreading awareness about the virus throughout the nation.
The tour stopped at Father Joe’s Villages on Thursday, and will be there through Friday, Aug. 11.
Father Joe’s is San Diego’s largest homeless services provider, and this event is meant to reduce some of the barriers unsheltered individuals face when it comes to healthcare.
“(The tour is) put on by AbbVie. They’re nice enough to come out here and test the local clientele for hep C, which is very important,” said Paul Sheck, program manager of the San Diego Day Center at Father Joe’s Villages.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that is spread through encounters with infected blood.
According to Sheck, “It’s important because just the nature of our population can lead to hep C spread. I mean, it could be done through shared needles, shared razors, shared hygiene equipment, bad tattoos, things like that. So these are things that could be affecting our population.”
Dr. Megan Partch, the chief health officer at Father Joe's, said the combination of high risk for transmission and low utilization of healthcare services makes the homeless population especially vulnerable and likely to suffer increased health consequences, which can include liver damage, liver cancer and cirrhosis, and death.
Sheck said everyone should get a hepatitis C test at least once in their life, and the testing at Father Joe's is available to everyone. “So, come on down, sit down and in 25 minutes they’ll have the results for you,” Sheck said.
In 2018, a San Diego County study estimated that over 55,000 adults in San Diego had a history of hep C infection, and estimated between 2,300 and 4,500 new infections annually in the community.
One of the people getting tested Thursday was Christina French, who recently became homeless.
“We’re living out here as neighbors in a real crisis housing situation and let’s not kid ourselves, we are dirty people,” French said. “So, being neighborly means getting a little bit dirty, so I’ve come to see what I’ve got or don’t got.”
French said it’s important to get tested because the consequences of not knowing are too much to deal with. “The deterioration of the health and the liver and the fever and things like that can have very very long term effects. So it’s worth finding out to get the medicine that you need for help,” she said.
French appreciated the free testing opportunity.
“It really says that they do care about the greater humanity. Being in such misfortune, sometimes we go blind that people still care about humanity and having this outreach for us to receive diagnosis and healthcare is very uplifting and encouraging,” French said.
The ElimiNATION Awareness Tour will be at the PMC Courtyard at Father Joe’s Villages Aug. 11 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.