DPHSS Pobutsky: We do not know the infection rate for Hep C

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Guam – No matter where you live there will undoubtedly be cases of the viral liver disease Hepatitis C, even here on Guam. Globally there are an estimated 71 million individuals with chronic Hepatitis C.

Recently former DOC Medical director Dr. Larry Lizama revealed that during his time at the prison compound he has seen 100 inmates and detainees who were infected with the deadly disease.

This raised the question how many island residents have been exposed and contracted the disease. In our search for answers, PNC found that the world may never know at least for now and not from the Department of Public Health as there hasn’t been registry or funding to gather the statistics since 2004.

When news of an $8 million Hepatitis C health crisis at the Department of Corrections was brought to light, questions were raised regarding exposure to the community, the prevalence of infection and whether or not there was a correlation between the use of drugs and the liver disease.

So PNC reached out to Public Health who is required to report new cases of Hepatitis A, B, and C to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but, surprisingly Territorial Epidemiologist Ann Pobutsky had very little information to provide indicating “we do not know the infection rate for Hep C.”

Further discussion revealed that Pobutsky has only been on the job for three weeks and that the last Epidemiologist in charge of cases such as this retired in 2004.

“When we do received reports of new cases of Hepatitis C, we double check to see if this person is already infected to avoid duplicated counts within the past couple of years, but we really do not know if any Hepatitis C cases are acute or chronic. We also do not know exactly how many people have Hepatitis C on Guam,” revealed Pobutsky

Meanwhile on K57’s Mornings with Patti Arroyo show Governor Lou Leon Guerrero responded to a question posed by PNC, regarding the lack of information. The governor shared she is more interested in the now.

“Yeah, you know just because we don’t have the number before doesn’t mean we cant start doing it now and maybe from doing it now we can start talking to people and maybe start creating the number. She went on to say, if we can’t create the number lets not you know lets spend all our energy trying to do that lets spend our energy in now and moving forward so we can track it,” expressed the Gov.

The is cancer research regarding Hepatitis C available that is linked to the viral disease,   which indicates that 63% of viral cases are tied to cancer. According to the World Health organization they estimated that as of July 2018, an estimated 1.1 percent or 1,900 individuals on Guam are infected with the blood borne illness.

But despite not having the information at our fingertips Governor Lou Leon Guerrero is in full support of prevention.

“Its a communicable disease and its something that I think Public Health needs to take control of and I am very supportive of monitoring and tracking people down so that we can treat them and also we can prevent further spread in the communities,” asserted Leon Guerrero.

Currently the DPHSS does not have any specific funded program for addressing Hepatitis, according to Pobutsky. But until funding is in place there is no data on Hep C which means there is also no data to draw a correlation between the blood borne illness and drug use, however, Pobutsky did indicate, “risk groups for Hepatitis C include people who have past or present injected drugs.”

 

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Jolene Toves
Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.