Texas Health Department Criticizes Hepatitis C Ad Campaign
A series of hepatitis C radio and TV ads advocating testing for the disease has met opposition from Texas Department of Health officials, who call the ads "misleading" and "unduly alarming," the Houston Chronicle reports. Sponsored by the Hep C Hope Foundation, the ads encourage a wide range of people to get tested for hepatitis C, including those who have had surgery, dental work, gamma globulin shots, blood transfusions, ear piercing or tattoos. The ads also deem professionals in health care, the military, law enforcement and emergency response to be at "high risk" for the disease. Dr. Gary Heseltine of the state health department's Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Surveillance division said that the ad campaign is "casting too wide a net in its education efforts," and called the series "grossly inappropriate." Health department officials said they had requested that the Hep C Hope Foundation "revise" the ads before they were aired. Heseltine added, "What we need to distinguish between is real risk and potential risk. Hepatitis C is transmitted by direct contact with infected blood. The vast majority were infected prior to June 1992 through blood transfusions, or they were using IV drugs. Those are the two big groups that are at very high risk for hepatitis C." The state has issued a letter to the Texas Dental Association and the Texas Medical Association stating that the likelihood of hepatitis C transmission during surgery or dental work is "virtually nil," and citing studies that show hepatitis C prevalence rates are no higher among health care workers, military personnel, police officers and firefighters than other people "of the same age and gender." However, Hep C Hope Foundation President Tom Logsdon said that the health department's view on at-risk populations is "too narrow," lamenting that most awareness campaigns imply "you have to be a drug addict or a sex maniac to get this disease. And that's not true." Logsdon said that the department's opposition to the ad campaign "stems from a fear that [the health department] will be swamped with people seeking the expensive test." An initial hepatitis C test at the department costs $8, and a follow-up confirmation test costs $180. The Hep C Hope Foundation offers free at-home hepatitis C testing kits that cost the foundation $70 each (Hopper, Houston Chronicle, 11/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.