Researchers talk hepatitis study results

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND)- Researchers at the University of Illinois Springfield are sharing the results of a two-year study of hepatitis among homeless people.

Associate Professor Josiah Alamu decided to study the matter after reading federal data that pointed to increasing rates of Hepatitis C, particularly among homeless people and people in prison.

“As a public health officer, my concern would be ‘How much would the government save if we do the screening and prevention?'" Alamu said. “I did the math. It takes about $90,000 to treat one Hepatitis C patient.”

Alamu and a group of students conducted screenings of about 100 homeless people at shelters in Springfield, Decatur, Champaign, Bloomington and Peoria, he said.

“Generally speaking, most people were receptive,” said graduate student Metta Kongira. “They wanted to participate because they wanted to know their status, and also they were happy we reached out to them, they didn’t have to pay for the diagnosis.”

Of those screened with rapid testing, 13 percent tested positive for Hepatitis C and were referred to hospitals for further services, Alamu said. That compares to federal projections that between 10 and 30 percent of homeless people have Hepatitis C.

Alamu said the research could help develop tailored treatments and prevent the spread of Hepatitis C.

“You get it majorly from shooting drugs through the vein, tattoos, things like that,” Alamu said. “So we believe when these people share their needles with their colleagues, or even people in the normal society, they have the tendency to transfer. We don’t want an epidemic of Hepatitis C.”

Kongira, who is originally from Gambia, said many homeless people were eager to share their stories with her.

“Maybe it’s because I’m different,” Kongira said. “I always stand out when we go as a team, so they always walk up to me and ask ‘Where are you from?’ So they want to share … and they also voluntarily tell me their stories, how they ended up homeless.”

Alamu said his students are now partnering with the Illinois Department of Public Health, Walgreens and others to conduct a mobile clinic in Springfield, providing screenings for homeless people and offering flu shots. He said the group plans to head out at night this week.   

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