Memorial Regional Health: Be proactive — Lab tests for HIV and hepatitis C available at Memorial Regional Health |

Memorial Regional Health: Be proactive — Lab tests for HIV and hepatitis C available at Memorial Regional Health

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

Viruses that spread through contaminated blood, such as HIV and hepatitis C, don't receive the public attention — and hysteria — they did in the 1980s and '90s, but that doesn't mean people should neglect to take preventative measures against them.

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, weakens the immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's no cure, but the virus can be controlled.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver diseases that can range from mild to severe.The hepatitis C virus, or HCV, is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person, according to the CDC.

The U.S. Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommends screening for HIV in adolescents and adults ages 15 to 65, and — outside that age range — for anyone considered high-risk.

For hepatitis C, the recommendation is for adults at high risk, which includes anyone who has shared needles to inject drugs, had tattoos or piercings in an unclean environment, had blood transfusions before July 1992, has unprotected sex with multiple partners, has HIV or has worked around infected blood or needles, among other factors.

While advancements in medicine and treatment have eased fears about these viruses, they remain health concerns. In Colorado, a positive HIV or HCV result is required to be reported to the Colorado Department of Health.

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"Every adult should be tested once in their lifetime for HIV. There are potentially a million people living with HIV without knowing it," said Dr. Elise Sullivan, family medicine physician at Memorial Regional Health. "If we find HIV, we treat it like a chronic disease, not unlike how we treat diabetes, where patients receive regular care and are put on an antiviral long term. It's not the death sentence that it once was."

In Colorado, three of the four new cases of acute HCV — which is the immediate infection that happens within six months of contact — were found in 2015 in young adults between age 20 and 29, according to the Colorado Health Institute. Colorado has seen a steady rise in HCV cases since 2013, when 23 acute cases were reported, compared to 2015, when 40 were reported, mirroring the national trend. For every reported case, the CDC reports, there are actually 14 cases.

Overall, about 70,000 Coloradans are currently infected with hepatitis C, both acute and chronic, which is the more severe, lifelong version of the virus.

"The increase in hepatitis C among young adults highlights the importance of testing, treatment and, especially, prevention,” said Dr. Sarah Rowan, associate director of HIV and Viral Hepatitis Prevention at Denver Public Health, in November. “The increase reflects an increase in injection drug use. We have effective prevention strategies, including syringe access programs and opioid replacement programs. Treatment for hepatitis C can also reduce the number of new cases we see in the future.”

An estimated 11,199 people are living with diagnosed HIV in Colorado, of whom 88 percent are men and 12 percent are women, according to 2014 data from AIDSVu, a project of Emory University's School of Public Health.

Reduced cost blood draws are available for walk-in appointments from 6 to 10 a.m. every Monday through Friday in March and by appointment only on weekends, at Memorial Regional Health. Call 970-826-3122 to schedule or for more information.

Facts about hepatitis C and HIV in the United States

  • In 2014, an estimated 30,500 cases of acute hepatitis C virus infections were reported in the United States.
  • An estimated 2.7 to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.
  • Approximately 75 to 85 percebt of people who become infected with hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection.
  • In 2014, there were an estimated 37,600 new HIV infections — down from 45,700 in 2008.
  • An estimated 11,199 people are living with diagnosed HIV in Colorado, of whom 88 percent are men and 12 percent are women

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

MRH lab tests

  • Blood cell count ($10): Measures white, red and platelets in blood; screens for abnormalities.
  • Blood chemistry ($25): Measures kidney, liver and thyroid function, as well as glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, ferritin and overall nutritional status.
  • Chlamydia/gonorrhea ($50): Urine screen for two sexually-transmitted diseases.
  • Hemoglobin A1c ($20): Measures blood sugar (glucose) levels over past 3 months to detect for diabetes.
  • Hep C ($20): Screens for a past or current infection of the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
  • HIV ($30): Screens for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); all adults should be screened at least once.
  • Prostate specific antigen (PSA) ($10): Gives level of blood protein associated with prostate cancer; men only.
  • Testosterone ($40): Total testosterone test to check for deficiency; men only.
  • Vitamin B12 ($20): Gives levels of this important essential vitamin for healthy nerves and blood cells.
  • Vitamin D ($40): Gives levels of this important essential vitamin for healthy bones, immune system, brain and nervous system.

MRH March into Health

What: Blood draws

When: 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday through March 30; weekends by appointment

Where: The Memorial Hospital lab, 750 Hospital Loop

Information: 970-826-3122