In hopes of halting the spread of hepatitis C, state officials are working with Walmart to offer free testing at rural stores across the state.
The idea is to screen and educate patients in places they already frequent, rather than making them go out of their way to hospitals or clinics.
“We’re bringing their health care to them … this is a first, and it’s going to transform how we provide hepatitis C care,” said Rebekah Gee, Louisiana Department of Health secretary.
The program was announced Tuesday at a Walmart in Watson, which will serve as one of 10 pilot program sites through Feb. 1.
The tests are finger-prick blood samples, similar to blood sugar tests. They will be administered at the Walmart pharmacies.
If the test finds a person might be at risk for hepatitis C, he or she will be referred to their primary care doctor or other health provider for additional screening or treatment. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but Gee said it is treatable.
Hepatitis C inflames the liver, causing further permanent disease and cancer. About 2.4 million Americans suffer from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New cases of hepatitis C have increased rapidly in the U.S. since 2010, often spreading through needles in drug use.
In addition to the human suffering hepatitis C causes, it takes a financial toll on state government. The disease affects roughly 39,000 people in Louisiana’s Medicaid program and prison system.
“The vision is to eventually be a one-stop shop, so how do we get people tested but also the treatment they need as easily as possible,” Gee said Tuesday at the announcement.
The pilot program includes Watson, as well as nine other rural areas in which resources are not as abundant as cities like Baton Rouge or New Orleans, according to assistant health secretary Alex Billioux.
Walmart locations include:
- Caddo Walmart: 929 Pine St., Vivian
- Evangeline Walmart: 891 E. LaSalle St, Ville Platte
- Iberia Walmart: 1205 E. Admiral Doyle Drive, New Iberia
- Lafourche Walmart: 4858 La. 1, Raceland
- West Carroll Walmart: 705 Constitution Ave., Oak Grove
- Tangipahoa Walmart: 1200 W. Oak St., Amite
- Ouachita Walmart: 1840 McKeen Place, Monroe
- Livingston Walmart: 34025 La. 16, Denham Springs
- St. Landry Walmart: 2310 S. Union St., Opelousas
- St. Mary Walmart: 1002 La. 70, Morgan City
Billioux said initially only those patients meeting the CDC guidelines will be screened for hepatitis C, but the goal is to offer the program to all Louisiana adults eventually.
Eligible patients include those who:
- Were born between 1945 and 1965
- Received donated blood or organs before 1992
- Have ever injected drugs
- Have certain medical conditions like chronic liver disease and HIV or AIDS
- Have abnormal liver tests or disease
- Have been exposed to a hepatitis C-infected person’s blood
- Are on hemodialysis or were born to a mother with hepatitis C
The screenings are free Wednesdays through Feb. 1 between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.