Local Roanoke Harm Reduction Program Offers Education and Vaccines Amid Hep A Outbreak

Gloved hand holding cotton and vaccine near patient's arm with rolled up sleeveGloved hand holding cotton and vaccine near patient's arm with rolled up sleeve
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Drop-In Center North manager Lisa Via is pushing for increased education and vaccine opportunities for injection drug users.

Roanoke City has seen a drastic increase in Hepatitis A in 2022, according to local ABC affiliate WDBJ.

According to Dr. Cynthia Morrow, the health district director for the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health District, between two and five sporadic cases has been standard. However, this year, 31 people have already been infected.

“The majority of our cases, about 80 percent, are identified in individuals who use injection drugs,” Morrow told the outlet.

Hepatitis A is very easily transmitted and the spread can be mitigated through productive hand-washing, which is something that is easily taken for granted.

“Some people who use injection drugs may also be un-housed so they may not have access to some of the things that we take for granted in terms of things like hand hygiene, sinks and proper places to go to the bathroom,” said Morrow.

Lia Via, manager of the Drop-In Center North in Virginia, focuses on education programming and harm reduction for those who use injection drugs.

Because of the outbreak, Via told WDBJ that they are focusing their education on Hep A and the vaccine. 

“You know the grassroots formation of harm reduction is meeting people where they are, so we meet people every week where they are. The Health Department in doing these clinics is meeting people where they are, they have offered these services that our clients need and don’t always get the services for a lot of reasons.”

According to Via, her program, which offers a free needle exchange, has increased from 460 participants to almost 650 in a little over three months, and a few dozen have already gotten their Hep A vaccine.

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