HEPATITIS C: California Funds New Education, Testing Programs
California is spending $1.5 million on programs for hepatitis C education, screening and testing, ANG Newspapers reports. In response to a report from the Sacramento-based Hepatitis C Coalition that found that only 18% of Californians knew about the disease, Gov. Gray Davis (D) authorized funding for the Departments of Health Services, Corrections and Veterans Affairs to implement the programs. Because 20% of veterans nationwide have tested positive for hepatitis C since 1998, half of the new funding will go to Veteran Affairs. About 500,000 Californians have the disease, and studies show infection incidence in California correctional facilities is 26 times higher than in the rest of the population -- 39% of male inmates and 55% of female inmates have hepatitis C. The bill's co-sponsor, Assembly member Audie Bock (I-Piedmont), said, "This is urgently needed. There's no vaccine." President of the Hepatitis C Coalition Kassy Perry said that infections usually occur through "direct or indirect contact with infected blood" via blood transfusions, organ transplants or needle sharing, and that most people are unaware they have the disease. Symptoms can remain hidden for 15 to 20 years after infection, allowing people to "unknowingly" pass the virus to others. While there is no cure for advanced hepatitis C, treatment is possible if "detected before significant damage" occurs. Liver damage, liver cancer or cirrhosis may develop if left untreated. Each year, more than 10,000 Americans die from hepatitis C, according to the American Liver Foundation. The NIH estimates that of the 30,000 new infections each year, only about 25% to 30% are diagnosed (Bohan, ANG Newspapers, 10/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.