Updated March 25 at 6:25am
health care

Brown researchers say treatment expansion could eliminate Hepatitis C in R.I.

WaterFire event dedicated to Hep C elimination slated for Saturday

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PROVIDENCE – Dr. Lynn Taylor is on a mission to eradicate hepatitis C in Rhode Island.

Taylor, assistant professor of medicine, a physician at The Miriam Hospital and founder of Rhode Island Defeats Hepatitis C, wants to increase awareness about the disease that she says affects 16,000 Rhode Islanders.

In time for an Aug. 6 WaterFire celebration for “RI Defeats Hep C,” a new Brown University study by Taylor and Public Health Assistant Professor Brandon Marshall projects that increasing the number of Rhode Islanders treated every year for the hepatitis C virus infection to approximately 2,000 by 2020 would reduce cases by 90 percent and prevent more than 70 percent of liver-related deaths by 2030.

“Hepatitis C virus-related morbidity and mortality can be reduced significantly in Rhode Island if an aggressive treatment strategy is implemented over the next decade,” wrote Marshall and colleagues in the journal Epidemiology and Infection. “The medications available today are so effective that — with increased treatment uptake — we have the opportunity to all but eliminate the disease by 2030.”

Taylor, who received a Rhode Island Foundation innovation fellowship in 2013 for her proposal to eradicate hepatitis C, said it is a “silent epidemic” and those infected often do not know. She said it kills more people in the United States than any other infectious disease, noting one in 30 baby boomers has the disease, which is why that population, those born between 1945 and 1965, are encouraged to get tested.

Next week, the R.I. Department of Health plans to unveil an epidemiological report, in partnership with the Rhode Island Public Health Institute, about the state of the epidemic.

Taylor said the research paper, whose lead author was Brown public health graduate student Dr. Ayorinde Soipe, was one of the many components of RI Defeats Hep C. The funding through the innovation fellowship, which totaled $300,000, has since ended, but she said she received a $1.2 million grant to continue hepatitis C research. Still, she said she needs more funding for policy and programmatic work.

The WaterFire event will help ameliorate the stigma attached to the disease, she said. Taylor said the disease is never spread through casual contact, and is only spread through blood.

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