Washington State Plan To Fight Hepatitis C Should Be Implemented on Time, Opinion Piece Says
Because we are all at risk of hepatitis C infection -- the virus can be transmitted through a very small amount of blood or body fluid -- Washington state should complete by Jan. 1, 2004, its hepatitis C awareness plan, Washington state Sen. Jim Kastama (D) writes in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer opinion piece. During the 2003 legislative session, Kastama cosponsored a bill (SB 5039), which was signed into law in May by Gov. Gary Locke (D), that directs the state Department of Health to lead an effort to create a statewide plan to prevent and manage hepatitis C infection. The state health department has recorded nearly 11,000 cases of the bloodborne infection, but because only 10% of cases are actually detected and reported, national prevalence data show that as many as 106,000 people could be infected in Washington, Kastama says. In addition, many people with hepatitis C do not experience symptoms and can unknowingly infect other people through needlesharing or other exposure to infected blood or body fluids, he writes. According to Kastama, hepatitis C "is estimated to spread 10 times faster than HIV/AIDS, so it's not a question of if we have an outbreak, but when." The state plan should focus on testing for and education about hepatitis C, as there is no cure or reliable treatment available, he says. According to Kastama, the state plan should recommend ways to educate the public and the medical community about hepatitis C; prevent and manage the disease among high-risk populations, including veterans, health care workers, injection drug users and prison inmates; develop the capacity to perform voluntary testing; and identify the sources of and the availability of funds, as only money from the federal government and private sources can be used for the initiative. Currently, hepatitis C affects the general population "far more regularly" than HIV/AIDS, Kastama says, concluding, "If we allow it to worsen, an epidemic of hepatitis C would be far worse than AIDS" (Kastama, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.