By Tim Eberly
Since receiving a federal public health grant in February 2000, the Rocky Boy Health Board has begun immunizations for almost half of the 19- to 50-year-olds on the reservation for the hepatitis B virus and a good portion of them have received all three injections.
Funds for the Hepatitis Project have also allowed all of the students on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, from kindergardeners to high school seniors, to be fully immunized to the deadly disease.
But the health board wants to take one more shot at immunizing all of the approximately 3,800 enrolled members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. Between 4:45 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Monday, 10 volunteer teams of two, including a registered nurse in each duo, will go door-to-door to homes in several of the reservation's villages and offer free vaccination shots. The three shots, which are administered over a six-month period, would normally cost about $100.
"I don't expect we'll visit everybody, but we're going to make a lot of contacts," said Janet Runnion, a registered nurse at the Chippewa Cree Health Center.
For the past year, shots have been offered at three locales. On Tuesdays, people can get hepatitis shots at Jitterbug's from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Wednesdays, Stone Child College has a area set up for immunization purposes for the same hours. And between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Thursdays, the Chippewa Cree Clinic offers the shots.
This last effort is being referred to as the "immunization blitz."
"This is just a way to catch people at home," Runnion said. "We catch them wherever we can school, work, church but this is just a different approach."
Six Native Americans died from hepatitis C in Great Falls between October 1998 and June 1999, including several with ties to Rocky Boy. Since then, the death toll from that disease among residents or people associated with Rocky Boy has risen to 10. Today, there are more than 100 people who test positive for hepatitis B or C on Rocky Boy.
"Some of the people have had the virus for a long time," Runnion said, adding that the outbreak in Great Falls has "made us more aware that we want to look at risk behavior through screening and health education."
Hepatitis B, which affects more than 1 million U.S. residents, is a possibly fatal disease that can cause long-term damage to the liver. Both bacteria and viruses can cause hepatitis. Detected in the blood, hepatitis B can be spread through contact with infected blood, from exhanging needles with an infected person or exchanging bodily fluids with an infected person.