Ken Boddie and KOIN 6 News Staff - PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- The Caring Ambassadors Health Pavilion at the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival is raising awareness about Hepatitis C and offering free testing.
The dunk tank is back for a 2nd year at the festival. It's not only fun, but the dunk tank helps raise money and awareness for this dangerous disease that has been making a comeback and affecting thousands in Oregon.
About 95,000 Oregonians have Hepatitis C. In total, 5 million Americans have the disease, and about half of them are undiagnosed.
Lorren Sandt, executive director of Caring Ambassadors, told KOIN 6 News, "Hepatitis C is a very underfunded epidemic, but it's the largest infectious disease outbreak in our lifetime."
Hepatitis C slowly destroys the liver and can lead to an early death. Symptoms of this disease mirror the flu.
Robert Shinney, a Hepatitis patient, said, "I was feeling fatigued, and you know, I had very mild symptoms. I'd get some kind of discomfort in my abdomen."
Shinney is cured now and works with Caring Ambassadors.
The Caring Ambassadors have tested over 3,000 people for Hepatitis C in the last 11 years. Out of that number, they've found about 170 people with the disease, some of whom have come back to tell them they've been cured.
According to Sandt, a lot of people who come into the booth already know they have Hepatitis C, but aren't getting treatment.
Sandt said they're determined to help people with the disease in any way they can.
"We try to link them into care, encourage them to get treatment, help them figure out their health insurance," Sandt said.
David Meyer didn't know he had Hepatitis C until he was tested at the festival.
"My cure date is July 28, this month, one year," Meyer said. "Caring Ambassadors may not have saved my life, but they certainly extended it."
Both Meyer and Shinney said early experimentation with intravenous drugs or blood transfusions during surgeries may have exposed them to the disease.
The virus was in the blood supply until the early '90s, which is why it's important for Baby Boomers to get tested.
However, Sandt said they're seeing a big increase in Hepatitis C cases among younger people due to the opioid epidemic.
KOIN 6 News will be at the dunk tank again this year. If you want to raise money for Hepatitis testing and the Oregon Food Bank, or learn more about this disease, head to the Caring Ambassadors Health Pavilion Monday afternoon.
Starting at 1:30 p.m., you have the chance to dunk Jenny Hansson and Ken Boddie for a great cause.
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