HEPATITIS C: Epidemic for Next Millennium, Officials Say
Hepatitis C, the debilitating liver disease, will be "the epidemic of the next millennium," killing more people annually than AIDS by 2010. The AP/Orange County Register reports that about 12,000 people die of hepatitis C each year in the United States. According to the CDC, that number is expected to rise to 38,000 in the next 11 years. Currently, California has about 500,000 cases of the disease, public health officials said Friday. California Hepatitis C Coalition representative Kathy Barberich said, "We believe the hep-C infection to already be at epidemic proportions in California, and there is still no vaccine to protect us from this virus." The blood borne virus can cause liver damage, liver cancer and cirrhosis, a deadly scarring of the liver. It is considered the "silent killer" because those infected feel and appear healthy. Prison inmates appear to be the most vulnerable to the infection: an anonymous study in Riverside County found that out of 2,009 jail inmates, 24% of men and 25% of women have the virus, reported Michael Osur, Riverside County assistant public health administrator. At a state Senate subcommittee hearing on the "rapidly spreading disease," Dr. Thomas Prendergast, a San Bernardino County health officer said, "The enormity of the problem requires response at the state and local level ... ." State Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) headed up the hearing and introduced a bill that would set up a statewide screening system for people with the virus and educate and train health care professionals about the disease (Lota, 11/13).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.