Lack of Funding Could Lead to Long Island, N.Y., Hepatitis C Epidemic Reminiscent of 1980s HIV/AIDS Outbreak, Health Officials Say
The number of new hepatitis C infections in Long Island, N.Y., are "rapidly" increasing, and health officials on Tuesday warned that a lack of funding for testing and prevention could cause the epidemic to "veer out of control" and "rival the outbreak of HIV" in the 1980s, the Long Island Newsday reports. More than 11,000 cases of hepatitis C have been recorded in Long Island, while between 200,000 and 300,000 cases have been recorded in New York City. Health officials have said that "there is no end to the upswing in sight," according to Newsday (Ricks, Long Island Newsday, 1/19). Earlier this month, doctors, researchers, community advocates and people living with hepatitis C in Manhattan testified before members of two state Assembly committees to urge action on the increasing hepatitis C prevalence rate in the area. Health experts told the committees that the recent wave of hepatitis C infections can be linked to the trend of crystal methamphetamine use and shared needles during injection drug use. Although there are no firm statistics about hepatitis C prevalence in Long Island, Jayne Green of the Nassau County Department of Drug and Alcohol Addiction said her agency is seeing more cases, and the number of people co-infected with hepatitis C and HIV also is increasing. Because of the increasing prevalence of hepatitis C, CDC predicts that within the next 10 years there will be a 279% increase in the incidence of liver damage in the United States, a 528% increase in the need for liver transplants and a 223% increase in the liver-related disease death rate (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/11).
Lack of Funding, Legislation
At a news conference held on Tuesday, Nassau County Health Commissioner David Ackman said that a lack of funding for case control, surveillance and education is "hampering efforts to effectively cope with the virus," according to Newsday. "We have to identify people now," Ackman said, adding that government funding would be "required to run costly programs," Newsday reports. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday also called for "sweeping federal legislation" and proposed the creation of a Liver Research Advisory Board within NIH (Long Island Newsday, 1/19). "Twenty years ago, when HIV/AIDS was first rearing its ugly head, our health care policy in reaction was to ... stick our collective heads in the sand, and we're still paying the price for not doing what we should have to stop that epidemic in its tracks," Schumer said, adding, "Now we're seeing the early warning signs from health experts that hepatitis C could quite possibly become the AIDS of the 21st century. If one good thing could ever come out of our nation's early AIDS ignorance, it's that maybe the next time such an ugly epidemic appears on the horizon, we'll move fast to stop it instead of vainly hoping the inevitable never occurs" (US Fed News, 1/18). Schumer also called for hepatitis C vaccine development and a nationwide education initiative, adding that a Congressional bipartisan coalition has proposed a Hepatitis C Epidemic Control and Prevention Act to prevent a "widespread epidemic before it starts," according to Newsday. There are approximately 2.7 million people living with the virus in the United States (Long Island Newsday, 1/19).