The University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville received a $200,000 competitive federal grant as a part of multicenter national effort to better understand the prevalence of hepatitis B infection.
Starting in January, researchers are planning to test at least 2,000 Jacksonville residents born outside of the United States, focusing on those born in Africa and Asia. The tests will be free, and the partnership of this community-based effort includes the UF Center for HIV/AIDS Research, Education and Services (UF CARES); UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute; the UF gastroenterology division; the Duval County Health Department and several local community and church groups.
The program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will include several community outreach events where people can be tested on the spot. Participants’ risks will be assessed based on where they were born. All participants will have a follow-up visit and those infected with hepatitis B will be linked to care. Those not infected will be referred for immunization against hepatitis B and will receive education on how to prevent the infection.
The testing will focus on people from countries where the hepatitis B infection rate is more than 2 percent. Many countries in Africa and Asia have infection rates upwards of 8 percent, according to the CDC. Less than half a percent of U.S. residents are infected with hepatitis B and more than half of those people were born in a foreign country, according to CDC data.
"Hepatitis B infection can be silent for years and can have severe problems. Linking those who are infected to care will provide them with an opportunity to receive treatment and those not infected would be protected by the vaccine," said Mobeen H. Rathore, M.B.B.S. (M.D), UF associate chair of pediatrics and principle investigator on this project. "It is important to know your hepatitis B status and this project will serve the community well."
Researchers are networking through community and faith groups to find events where they could conduct testing, as well as basic health screenings. For example, researchers have already lined up a spot for the Vietnamese New Year celebration at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds, where about 3,000 people are expected.
Part of the program will be working to dispel myths some people have about testing and results. For example, some people from Asian countries are reluctant to get tested, because they fear if they test positive they’ll lose their job, lose their home or be ostracized from their community, said Jevetta Stanford, Ed.D., a community research associate with the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute who is helping lead the grant.
Participants in the program will also have an opportunity to be tested for the HIV/AIDS virus. The health department will conduct those tests through its refugee health program. UF physicians have seen many of their HIV/AIDS patients co-infected with either hepatitis B or C, and researchers have sought to vaccinate or begin treating more people if possible.
More information on hepatitis is available at the CDC information page.
For information on the testing program or to inquire about researcher testing at your event or institution, please contact Stanford in the UF Community Engagement and Research Program at (904) 383-1709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.