Number of Hepatitis C Cases in Boston Rose by 300% Between 1998 and 2001
The number of hepatitis C cases in Boston increased by 300% over the last four years, according to a report released yesterday by the city's Public Health Commission, the Boston Globe reports. The city recorded 1,139 hepatitis C cases in 2001, compared to 380 cases in 1998. However, the rising number of cases is probably not indicative of a new wave of infections because the virus has a long incubation period, and the increase is more likely a reflection of the success of recent public health campaigns designed to get people to be tested for the virus, the Globe reports. Those initiatives, which used billboards, bus placards and television ads, began in the late 1990s after health officials began to "recognize the implications" of hepatitis C infection, which can lead to permanent liver damage. "We have spent the last three to five years aggressively trying to get people tested for hepatitis C because it is an unrecognized disease in terms of its scope. We knew the burden of hepatitis C was much, much larger than what had been identified," Dr. Bela Matyas, medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's epidemiology program, said. In the next few weeks, city health officials plan to issue an alert to infection-control authorities at area hospitals and health clinics and will urge doctors to discuss prevention and testing with their patients. "The more testing and the more positives that are being identified, the greater the impact of the public-health message that we've been trying to circulate," Miriam Alter, a CDC hepatitis specialist, said. However, many of the state's hepatitis C initiatives are "imperiled" by state budget cuts and may have to shut down by July 1 if $2.75 million in prevention funds are not restored, John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said (Smith, Boston Globe, 6/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.