PORTLAND (AP) – Health officials on Monday unveiled a statewide testing program for Hepatitis C, which afflicts an estimated 15,000 Maine residents.

The program also includes efforts to increase education about the blood-borne liver disease through free counseling, a state Bureau of Health Web site and radio and TV public service announcements.

Officials say that fewer than 10 percent of people with Hepatitis C are aware that they have the disease.

Risk factors include sharing needles for drug use and having received a blood transfusion before 1992.

, when more effective blood screening tests became available.

The disease has been reported almost twice as frequently among men than women in Maine, and almost 70 percent of reported cases have been from people in their 30s and 40s.

A $75,000 contribution from the Maine Health Access Foundation will make free testing and counseling available for high-risk patients at 22 locations in 12 Maine counties.

The program, which also includes the opening of a Hepatitis C treatment center at Maine Medical Center in Portland, grew out of a collaboration between the hospital and health officials from the city of Portland and the state.

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AP-ES-05-12-03 1902EDT

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