The New Mexico Department of Health has launched a new toll-free number that will make it easier for patients with hepatitis C to access services and learn how to fight the disease. Department of Health staff answers the confidential, toll free number from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1-888-DOH-HepC (364-4372). Callers can also leave a confidential message that will be returned by Department staff.

“The number will help providers connect patients with hepatitis C services,” said Ray Stewart, the Department’s director of public health services in southwestern New Mexico. “Individuals who are at risk for hepatitis C can also call to find out where they can get tested.”

Project ECHO is a partnership between the Department of Health, the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, the New Mexico Corrections Department, and the New Mexico Primary Care Association. The project, which began in 2003, provides medical providers across the state with expert advice through telehealth sessions on treating their patients.

Telehealth is the use of live videoconferencing through the use of the internet and has the potential to close gaps in healthcare access many New Mexicans face due to the lack of medical and behavioral health specialists in their area. The project also covers other chronic diseases such as asthma, arthritis, obesity, depression, and substance use disorders.

In recognition of World Hepatitis Day on May 19, the Department of Health has partnered with the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Hepatitis C Alliance, El Centro Family Health and New Mexico AIDS Service to host a series of events and raise awareness about the importance of viral hepatitis prevention and care:

  • On May 12, El Centro Family Health and Department of Health will host a health fair from 11 to 3 p.m. at the Wal-Mart, 1610 Riverside Drive in Española. Free viral hepatitis testing and vaccinations are available to those who qualify. Educational and treatment information are also available.
  • On May 19, New Mexico AIDS Services will extend testing hours from 5 to 7 p.m. to provide free hepatitis and HIV screening and hepatitis A and B vaccine at 625 Truman NE in Albuquerque. Eligibility will be determined based on risk assessment. Call 505-938-7100 for more information.
  • On May 23, Department of Health and the University of New Mexico will host a webinar presentation about the medical aspects of hepatitis C including treatment, surveillance, counseling, testing and harm reduction from 9 to noon. The webinar is open to the public. To register, e-mailPatrick.Stafford@state.nm.us.
  • On May 29, New Mexico AIDS Services will host a “Smart Steps” class from 1 to 3 p.m. for people infected with hepatitis C. Please call 938-7100 for more information.

Hepatitis is an infection of the liver and is caused by toxins, bacteria, and viruses. Hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common types of viral hepatitis found in the United States. There are approximately 5,000 people infected with hepatitis B and between 28,000 – 32,000 people chronically infected with hepatitis C in New Mexico.

Symptoms of hepatitis include jaundice, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Many people however, show no signs or symptoms of having the virus and without testing or education are at risk for transmitting the virus to others or causing further damage to their own liver.

If you have ever injected drugs, shared crack or methamphetamine pipes, or received a blood transfusion before July 1992, it is recommended that you consider getting tested for hepatitis. Contact your local health office or medical provider for more information.

If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, it is important to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. For more information on hepatitis testing, vaccination, treatment, and other services contact the Department of Health at1-888-DOH-HEPC(1-888-364-4372).