LIMA — About 1.5 million people in America have lupus. That's a lot of people, and a local organization is joining the fight to spread awareness of the disease with a $14,000 grant from the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.And although the non-profit Connected Hands-Helping Others offers information and services on a variety of health topics, lupus is one it is hoping to spotlight in the Lima area. The grant was received last August and Mike Vollmar, project coordinator, said the agency is “definitely going to be gung ho” about getting the message about lupus to the community.“We're here, we've been given this money to help people. We'd like to make people aware. ... We want to be of service to the general public, but also to target people in the community with lupus, to help them,” he said. “We're interested in making contact with people in the community.”But first, what exactly is lupus? It's a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the body in a variety of ways, according to www.lupus.org, the website for the Lupus Foundation of America, Inc. The skin, joints, blood and kidneys are most often impacted, and while it's not necessarily fatal, complications from symptoms can lead to death.So while that might be some good news on the lupus front, according to Becky Dershem, nursing director for the Allen County Health Department, it means that people suffer more from lupus than die from it.And that is what makes lupus a serious contender among diseases and the reason why community education is so important.Symptoms of lupus can include fatigue, pain, changes in weight — whether up or down — and sometimes a fever. A butterfly-type rash on the cheeks can also occur after exposure to the sun, according to Katherine Hoying, a certified nurse practitioner in Lima.Treatment can include lifestyle modifications, anti-inflammatory medications, oral steroids, and other medications that are typically prescribed by a specialist, Hoying said.Lupus is managed individually through a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, quitting smoking, using sun protection and taking medications as prescribed, she added. People with lupus should always follow up with their doctors and stay current on the latest lupus research.Although anyone can be affected by lupus, women of reproductive age tend to have it more often than men — more than 90 percent of people with lupus are female, according to the lupus foundation.According to Hoying, research suggests this statistic is related to sex hormones that are specific to women.Some ethnic groups seem to be at a higher risk as well. African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have higher rates of lupus than Caucasians, the website said. Lupus also appears to develop at an earlier age and is more severe among members of these ethnic groups. This is the reason the local community grant came from the state minority health commission, Vollmar said.Awareness is a big topic Connecting Hands-Helping Others wants to tackle, in addition to connecting with local residents with the disease. Many people know the name lupus, but for such a widespread disease, awareness of it is severely limited, according to the lupus foundation. A nationwide poll of 1,000 adults conducted by the foundation revealed the following statistics about the awareness level of lupus in this country:• About 38 percent of respondents were somewhat or very familiar with lupus, while about 39 percent only knew the name and about 22 percent had never heard of lupus• Only four in 10 young adults ages 18 to 24 were aware of lupus, even though this age span is at a high risk for the disease• Only 20 percent of the respondents who claimed to have knowledge of lupus could correctly answer basic questions about itConnecting Hands-Helping Others organizes a local support group for people with lupus, which meets the second Thursday of each month, 1 p.m., at the Lima Towers. For more information on lupus and what is being done in the community, call the agency at 567-712-2298, or visit www.connectedhands.org.