Tag Archives: Viral Hepatitis

Increase in HCV Cases Calls for Updated Screening Protocols

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

We, here at HEAL Blog, attempt to provide coverage of local outbreaks of Viral Hepatitis (VH), as well as to investigate and report them using evidence-based data to accurately characterize the issues at play. What consistently comes to the forefront of Hepatitis C (HCV) infection is the issue of Injection Drug Use (IDU) and the People Who Inject Drugs (PWID). More than any other risk factor, IDU in consistent across Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV), and HCV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, IDU was reported as a risk factor in 36.1% of all Acute HAV cases, ~34.3% of all Acute HBV cases, and 64.2% of all Acute HCV cases (CDC, 2017).

Hepatitis Screening

Photo Source: JAMA

In the five of the states with the highest rates of HCV – Massachusetts (MA), West Virginia (WV), Kentucky (KY), Tennessee (TN), Maine (ME), and Indiana (IN) – these data are undeniable:

And yet, none of these states have amended their HCV screening protocols to include compulsory “Opt-Out” screening in every healthcare setting. This is folly, at best, and dereliction of duty, at worst. If a state’s responsibility is to ensure the health and welfare of its citizens, it is incumbent upon them to take non-extraordinary steps to expand screening protocols. Moreover, they must begin regularly surveilling and reporting, including detailed risk-factor reporting.

If this sounds “revolutionary,” it’s simply not. Given the high rates of infection, mortality, co-morbidities, and the fact that there is a functional cure for the disease, there is simply no excuse for failing to expand testing to include compulsory “Opt-Out” screening for HCV, particularly in states where IDU is high. Is it expensive? Yes. But, again, when it comes to the health and welfare of people, sometimes short-term expenditures outweigh long-term costs of care. This is why there are grants; this is why people pay taxes.

Some of the most successful screening efforts are being conducted not in traditional healthcare settings, but at Syringe Services Programs (SSPs), which remain controversial among those who say that they promote and encourage drug use. These services are, however, vital to stemming the spread of disease. Perhaps the least successful screening efforts are conducted in incarceration settings, despite having essentially a captive demographic. These efforts are hampered, again, by cost concerns, as, if the results come back “Positive,” they are required by law to treat.

While expanding screening may be initially costly, it is the best way for us to go about eliminating HCV in the U.S.

References

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Hepatitis A Outbreak Expands Throughout Southern California

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

In mid-September 2017, HEAL Blog wrote about the extreme measures taken by San Diego County and city to combat a severe outbreak of Hepatitis A (HAV) among the county’s homeless, indigent, and illicit drug user populations (Hopkins, 2017). At that time, the HAV outbreak consisted of 421 confirmed cases, 292 hospitalizations, and 16 deaths. That initial outbreak, which began in November 2016, has continued to grow with 481 confirmed cases, 337 hospitalizations, and 17 deaths (Sisson, 2017). The outbreak is also spreading.

Both Santa Cruz and Los Angeles Counties have begun seeing outbreaks of HAV related to the initial outbreak in San Diego County, with 68 confirmed cases in Santa Cruz County (Health Services Agency, 2017) and 12 confirmed cases in Los Angeles County, 9 of which required hospitalization (Acute Communicable Disease Control, 2017). These cases do not include all of the reported HAV cases; only those connected to the San Diego outbreak. These cases are primary among the same populations in these counties as they were in San Diego County – homeless, indigent, and illicit drug users.

Hepatitis A Facts

Photo Source: MedChitChat.com

According to Kaiser Health News writer, Stephanie O’Neill, poor access to restrooms and sinks in homeless encampments is largely to blame for these outbreaks (O’Neill, 2017). San Diego County responded to their outbreak by installing 40 portable hand-washing stations throughout the downtown areas hardest hit by the outbreak, leaving public restrooms open overnight, and power-washing heavily soiled sections of downtown sidewalks and streets with a bleach solution in an effort to stop the spread of the virus (O’Neill).

Southern California’s HAV outbreak is being described as “unprecedented” and “the largest outbreak in the U.S. that is not related to a contaminated food product” since the U.S. first introduced a vaccine for hepatitis A in 1995 (O’Neill). This trend is unlikely to be restricted to Southern California. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), “Despite a lack of affordable housing and shelter space, many cities have chosen to criminally or civilly punish people living on the street for doing what any human being must do to survive” (NLCHP, n.d.). Additionally, the NLCHP notes that, since 2006, bans on camping city-wide have increased by 69%, bans on sleeping in public have increased by 31%, bans on sitting or lying down in public have increased 52%, bans on loitering, loafing, and vagrancy have increased 88%, and bans on living in vehicles have increased 143% (NLCHP). Furthermore, most cities in the U.S. close public restrooms at dusk, leaving homeless people with nowhere to relieve themselves.

While the intention of these bans is to move cities’ homeless populations out of the line of sight and create “safer” public spaces for homed populations, the real-life effect has resulted in creating conditions ripe for the spread of diseases like HAV. People who lack access to restroom and handwashing facilities are forced to relieve themselves in the open, creating biohazardous waste and fostering the spread of HAV to potentially anyone who comes in contact with their refuse.

It is also likely that, as more cities are hit with HAV outbreaks related to homelessness and illicit drug use, responses will vary between highly effective public health responses like those put in place by San Diego County, and highly ineffective criminalization responses that end up creating worse circumstances than they purport to fix.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Hepatitis A: Extreme Sanitation Measures in San Diego

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

As a blog designed to talk about issues related to Viral Hepatitis and HIV, we do our best to stay focused on the topic of Hepatitis C (HCV). Recent developments in San Diego, CA, however, have captured our attention and merit coverage and discussion.

Since early 2017, the Public Health Services Division (PHSD) in the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has been investigating a significant outbreak of the Hepatitis A (HAV) virus. As of September 12, 2017, there have been 421 confirmed cases of Acute HAV which have resulted in 292 hospitalizations (69%) and 16 deaths (3.8%). The majority of these cases have been within San Diego’s homeless and/or illicit drug user populations, although some cases have been neither (HHSA, 2017).

Hepatitis A Outbreak Spreads Beyond Homeless in San Diego

Photo Source: San Diego Informer

HAV is spread primarily by ingesting the virus by way of contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person, and the symptoms may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and/or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes). Moreover, HAV is very hardy and is able to live outside the human body for months, making it particularly easy to spread (CDC, 2016).

In response to this outbreak, San Diego has taken the unusually proactive step of implementing extreme health measures in order to combat the spread of HAV including the installation of 40 handwashing stations in areas with high concentrations of homeless people, sanitization efforts in those areas, holding 256 mass vaccination events and 109 “foot teams” of public health nurses who go into the aforementioned areas to offer vaccinations, distributing over 2,400 hygiene kits that include water, non-alcohol hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, clinic location information, and plastic bags, and implementing street cleaning protocols that require sanitation department workers to power-wash streets and buildings with chlorine and bleach (Bever, 2017).

While these measures may seem extreme, the reality of combating an HAV outbreak once it’s already taken hold means that extraordinary steps must be taken. Despite the availability of HAV vaccinations since 1995, much of the homeless and indigent population either lack access to those healthcare resources, or are too old to have been vaccinated as children. During the mass vaccination events, county health officials have vaccinated 19,000 people, including 7,300 considered to be at-risk of contracting the disease (Warth, 2017). Additionally, the city has agreed to extend public toilet hours to 24/7 in order to allow homeless people access to the restrooms, rather than defecate in the open, whether others may come in contact (Montes, 2017).

While these proactive measures will certainly help to combat the spread, the most important step will be reaching, vaccinating, and educating hard-to-reach/hard-to-treat homeless, indigent, and/or illicit drug user populations in an effort to effect behavioral changes in order to prevent further spread of the disease. This means teaching proper handwashing techniques, proper hygiene, and proper sterilization of equipment used to partake in illicit drug use. San Diego, despite the dire circumstances it currently endures, is taking the right steps to ensure safer streets for their homeless population.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Compulsory Viral Hepatitis Screening is a Pathway to Elimination

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

At the International AIDS Society’s (IAS’) 4th Annual HIV/Viral Hepatitis Co-Infection Meeting in Paris, France, aside from all of the various data regarding rates of infection around the globe and various approaches to eradicating Hepatitis B and C (HBV/HCV, respectively) by the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) target year of 2030, one assertion rang true throughout: all of these projections and approaches will require robust Harm Reduction measures to be put in place.

For the uninitiated, Harm Reduction measures are various laws, regulations, and statutes put into place in order to reduce injury or death from a specific cause; a good example of this would be a Seat Belt Law. As they relate to Viral Hepatitis (VH), Harm Reduction statutes include various methods of reducing the likelihood of infection (and thereby death), such as the mandatory use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), ID requirements for the purchase of prescription opioid drugs, and prescriber education about the risks of prescribing opioids and proper opioid usage. One set of measures, however, would serve several purposes: mandatory or compulsory screening requirements for HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

"Hepatitis" on a screen, with a stethoscope

Photo Source: CTV News

A handful of states (CT, FL, MA, NY, and PA) have considered or passed mandatory screening guidelines for the Birth Cohort (people born between 1945-1965). These guidelines are largely inefficient, because they rely upon an “Opt-In” method of screening, meaning that patients are offered screening, and must accept – it’s optional. Additionally, these measures focus only on the Birth Cohort, and understandably so, as they represent the largest percentage of existing HCV cases. These approaches, while well-intentioned, must be amended and updated on a national level, in order to effectively combat the spread of both HBV and HCV.

An estimated 70% of new Acute HCV infections are related to Injection Drug Use (IDU) by People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs). That none of these screening guidelines make mention of these facts is indicative of our inability to accurately capture the data we need in order to adequately assess the scope and scale of the epidemic. Statistics at the state and national levels are largely reached using modeling that projects an estimated number that ostensibly accounts for underreporting. PWIDs are, however, notoriously difficult patients from whom to capture data, in no small part because we see them consistently in only a handful of healthcare settings: Hospitals for overdoses, Prisons, Jails, and Juvenile Detention Centers for incarceration, and Rehabilitation facilities. In addition, Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) are another excellent point of data collection, but it must be handled differently than those previously listed.

The most effective method of screening is to make it compulsory (mandatory) on an “Opt-Out” basis in which patients are informed that screening for HIV, HBV, and HCV are part of a required set of screenings, and they must provide “informed refusal” of the test. This requires that all hospitals, clinics, justice/incarceration settings, and rehabilitation facilities adopt this method of screening in order for the most effective use of time and money that will result in the most accurate data captures. When opioid and heroin users overdose and are the recipient of emergent care services, this is the prime location to capture data from PWIDs. The same holds true for those who are moved into justice settings, as well as those who enter rehabilitation services. Additionally, with the use of rapid HCV antibody testing, this can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. The important part is ensuring that each Positive test result is followed up with an immediate secondary confirmatory screening, rather than scheduling a second appointment.

These types of compulsory screening requirements are paramount to achieving the WHO’s goal of eradication of HBV and HCV by 2030. Once patients know their status, with proper linkage to care services, they can be cured of HCV and treated for HBV with relative ease. This will, of course, require an investment on the part of state, Federal, public, and private partners, and until we have Federal movement on these issues, the best location to start is at the state-level. Personally, I am working on an endeavor with one of West Virginia’s delegates to work on building a workable and FUNDED compulsory screening requirement as close to the one I suggested above, given the complex nature of WV’s budgetary constraints. We at HEAL Blog invite you to do the same, in order to ensure that compulsory screening becomes a reality.

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Viral Hepatitis Funding Lowest in States Most at Risk

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released the data related to Viral Hepatitis (VH) surveillance in the U.S. for 2015, and the picture is…grim. While many states saw relatively stable rates of new Acute Hepatitis C (HCV) infections, two states – AL and PA – experienced 100% increases from 2014 (CDC, 2017). CDC funding for states’ respective Viral Hepatitis programs, however, tends to fall short in states where rates of infection are high relative to the population (The AIDS Institute, 2017).

Infection rates are generally calculated by taking the number of total infections, dividing that by a state’s total population, and multiplying that result by 100,000 to calculate how many people, on average, will be infected for every 100,000 residents. For example:

The state of West Virginia reported 63 new cases in 2015; the state has a population of 1,844,000, so 63/1,844,000 = 0.00003416 x 100,000 = 3.416 rate of infection.

West Virginia, despite being the 14th least populous state (including the District of Columbia), has the second highest rate of new HCV infections in the U.S., second only to Massachusetts, which has a rate of 3.7. The following chart lists the top ten states in order of highest infection rate, their respective populations, and the amount of funding in those states for VH:

Chart showing 10 states with highest viral hepatitis infections also having lowest state budgets to combat the disease, including MA, WV, KY, TN, ME, IN, NM, MT, NJ, NC

The above chart seems to be indicative of two things irrespective of a state’s population: (1.) certain states make VH funding a priority, while others do not; (2.) states are simply not receiving enough funding from the Federal government and the CDC to bring their VH programs up to funding levels adequate enough to effectively combat VH.

Each of these states has a number of factors contributing to their respective rates of infection: (1.) Aging populations (Baby Boomers born between 1945-1965); (2.) High rate of Injection Drug Use related to opioid drugs, heroin, or stimulants; (3.) Sharp increase in the number of tests administered, resulting in higher rates of positive results.

What is clear is that funding for VH is woefully inadequate if the U.S. intends to eradicate HCV from the U.S. by 2030.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Emory University and CDC Reveal HepVu

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

The latest tool in Viral Hepatitis advocacy has arrived: HepVu (www.hepvu.org). A project of Emory University’s Coalition for Applied Modeling for Prevention (CAMP) – supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – HepVu is an interactive website that provides various data related to Viral Hepatitis (VH), with the greatest emphasis being placed upon Hepatitis C (HCV), the least accurately reported variant in the U.S.

The website features interactive maps detailing estimated prevalence data, rates of infection, mortality data, and regional impacts and comparisons on both the national and state levels. While HCV data released by the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the CDC produces national estimates, HepVu is the first analysis that uses a more nuanced formula that includes NHANES data, but also examines state-level reporting and statistics that includes electronic medical records (EMRs), insurance claims, and HCV-related mortality.

Other site features include infographics, explanations about the various types of VH, and the ability to print and download maps and data for use in advocacy efforts and reports. Dr. Patrick Sullivan, one of the researchers associated with creating the project, stated that making the site a resource for HCV-related advocacy and reporting efforts was an essential step in creating HepVu. This is the first HCV-related website (of which I am aware) that makes these data easily available for reprinting and citation purposes.

The contributing researchers to the website admit that this reporting is likely well below the actual prevalence and rates of infection, because screening, reporting, and tracking vary in quality and amount of data from state to state, in no small part because of a lack of Federal and state funding for HCV reporting, as well as adequate and standardized reporting requirements set by the CDC. Part of what makes this data so important is that it serves as a great starting point for advocating for increased funding for reporting and tracking – something that Congress has been slow to address, despite large increases in funding to address America’s opioid and heroin abuse crisis, the leading contributor to the rise in new HCV infections.

The primary limitation of the data presented on HepVu (and in general) is age: the vast majority of the data centers on 2010 and 2014 – seven and three years old, respectively. This complaint has been a sticking point for advocates and HCV-related organizations for several years, particularly because of the release of easily tolerated and highly effective Direct Acting Agents (DAAs) that serve as a curative treatment for HCV. Now that we have these tools to eradicate HCV, it is imperative that we begin operating on current information, rather than relying upon data that predates two presidential elections. This means that both Federal and state governments are going to have to step up to the plate and begin adequately funding screening, reporting, and tracking efforts, regardless of the high cost of these drugs.

HepVu is an excellent starting point, despite the data limitations, and so long as the statistics and information are regularly updated with more current information, it has the potential to become an invaluable tool in combating HCV and hopefully eradicating the virus from the U.S., entirely.

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Heroin and Hepatitis Go Hand in Hand

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Over the past year, HEAL Blog has paid a lot of attention to heroin, particularly in relation to the massive increase in heroin and prescription opioid overdoses in Appalachia, the Midwest, and the Northeast. While the purpose of HEAL – “HEAL” standing for “Hepatitis: Education, Advocacy, and Leadership” – is to specifically address issues related to Viral Hepatitis, and particularly Hepatitis C (HCV), when we cover issues related to prescription opioid abuse and heroin, we sometimes fail to connect the dots between the two topics. There is, in fact, a very high correlation between Injection Drug Use (IDU), People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs), and the transmission of HCV: most new HCV infections in the three previously listed regions are related to IDU.

Sources of Infection for Persons with Hepatitis C

Photo Source: Pinterest

HCV and HCV-related co-morbidities (e.g. – Cirrhosis, Advanced Liver Disease) kill more Americans each year than any other infectious disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). It is also one of the most expensive diseases to treat, with Direct Acting Agent (DAA) drug Wholesale Acquisition Costs (WACs) ranging between $50,000 and $100,000 for twelve weeks of treatment. This makes preventing the spread of HCV not only a matter of physical health, but one of fiscal health.

Despite pharmaceutical manufacturers’ arguments that the one-time cost of a regimen to achieve a Sustained Virologic Response (SVR – “cure”) is far cheaper than the long-term costs of other diseases, not to mention the long-term costs that arise if HCV goes untreated, state and Federal healthcare budget departments remain unconvinced. Budgeting processes generally focus on a single year, rather than accounting for multi-year spending, so arguing that long-term expenditures “cost” more hasn’t been an effective argument. Even with the clandestine pricing agreements and rebates – clandestine, because they are not made public due to “trade secrets” laws – states have yet to begin treating every HCV-infected client on their government-funded rosters. To do so would blow through entire pharmacy budgets several times over, in many states.

With PWIDs representing the highest number of new HCV infections between the ages of 18-35, state legislatures are starting to come around to the realization that the best way to avoid spending that money on expensive treatments is to put into place Harm Reduction measures that are shown to prevent the spread of blood borne illnesses. As it is very difficult and unfeasible to stop IDU, syringe exchanges can be put into place that allow PWIDs to inject using clean needles, rather than sharing them.

Syringe exchanges have, for much of the past forty years, been largely reviled by politically conservative politicians and states; many Republican politicians have repeatedly argued that state-sponsored syringe exchanges will only encourage bad behavior, serving as a tacit endorsement of IDU. Now that prescription opioid and heroin abuse has moved outside of the urban areas and into the suburban and rural areas that serve as bastions of the Conservative ideal, suddenly, these politicians are coming around to the idea.

Medical technician counting needles.

Photo Source: Daily Beast

In the past two years, several considerably conservative states have passed laws allowing syringe exchanges to be established – Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia, to name a few – largely in response to a relative explosion of new HIV and HCV infections related to IDU. The problems that politicians and their constituents once relegated to the big cities have come to their quiet towns, and have done so right under their noses. The lessons out of Scott County, Indiana, where nearly 200 people tested positive for HIV near the end of 2015 and into 2016, are still reverberating throughout the region, and people are starting to look at ways to prevent the spread of disease, rather than punish the behavior.

It is clear that the opioid and heroin abuse epidemic is not going away, anytime soon. Since we aren’t likely to stop currently addicted people from injecting drugs, the smartest path forward is to at least make certain they can do so safely.

References:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016, May 04). Hepatitis C Kills More Americans than Any Other Infectious Disease. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Newsroom Home: Press Materials: CDC Newsroom Releases. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0504-hepc-mortality.html

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

 

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