SAN MATEO COUNTY: Hepatitis C More Common, Deadlier than AIDS
County supervisors warned residents Wednesday that hepatitis C may be more lethal to county dwellers than AIDS, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. County public health officer Scott Morrow estimated that up to 13,000 residents may carry the hepatitis C virus -- 10 times as many as are infected with HIV. "Hepatitis C is an epidemic we largely missed and are dealing with after the fact," Morrow told county supervisors. As a result, supervisors voted "unanimously to start voluntary testing" of jail inmates, drug users at needle-exchange programs and patients at the county's AIDS clinics. "We really need to begin testing," said county Health Services Director Margaret Taylor. Saying it was the "right thing to do," she added, "We don't want the disease to spread any more." County health officials estimate that hepatitis C causes up to 50 deaths a year, compared to about 20 to 30 deaths from AIDS-related illnesses. According to the CDC, at least 2.7 million Americans carry the hepatitis C virus, making the chronic liver disease the most common blood-borne infection in the U.S. Roughly 12,000 people now die each year in the U.S. from the virus, and experts estimate that number will reach 38,000 by 2010. While county officials are concerned about the "epidemic," they are not likely to expand treatment programs; unlike AIDS, no federal or state funding is available for hepatitis C testing and treatment.
More From Morrow
Morrow informed supervisors that he will submit a proposal to federal regulators regarding research into medical marijuana. The proposal, expected by Friday, would establish a 12-week study during which 60 county residents with AIDS would use medical marijuana. The study would aim to establish the ability of patients to follow strict rules regarding marijuana use and refrain from purchasing the drug "on the street." The county, however, needs federal approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse prior to moving forward with the study (Wilson, 12/8).