News & Politics

World Hepatitis Day: 75 percent of Adults Infected With Hepatitis C Are Baby Boomers

New Jersey advocacy campaign calls for widespread testing to prevent this growing public health threat.

July 28 marks World Hepatitis Day, commemorated around the globe in a bid to promote awareness and prevention of the disease, which affects more than five hundred million people world-wide.

While there are five strains of hepatitis, the two most common and deadliest causes of chronic viral hepatitis are hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which can lead to liver cancer and death.  On our home soil, more people die from hepatitis C than HIV/AIDS, with three to four million people in the United States infected with the disease.

In response, New Jersey advocates have launched a Hepatitis C Action Campaign and Petition calling for widespread testing by hospitals and health care professionals which would enable those infected to receive life-saving treatment and prevent transmission to others, Drug Alliance Policy reported. In New Jersey alone, more than 150,000 people are living with hepatitis C with the vast majority unaware that they are infected with the virus.

“Hepatitis C is a silent killer that affects millions of people; until now it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Our goal is to raise awareness and save lives.” Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release.

The campaign is therefore urging the legislature to take action on Senate Bill 876 which would require hospitals and health care professionals to offer Hepatitis C testing to high-risk individuals, namely those born between 1945 and 1965.

The baby boomer age bracket accounts for 75 percent of Hepatitis C cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) although the reason why this is the case is not completely understood, since most have been living with the disease without symptoms for decades. Likewise, African Americans and veterans also have substantially higher rates of hepatitis C infection.

As a contagious liver disease, hepatitis C is a spread by through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected person.  Similar to hepatitis B, the disease can cause extensive liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and death without treatment. The CDC predicts that deaths from hepatitis could double or triple in the United States over the next 20 years without action.

Consequently, Senator and New Jersey bill sponsor Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) has stressed that knowing whether or not you have hepatitis C is important, not just to ensure you receive the quality health care you need, but also to protect others from contracting the disease.

“It’s not uncommon for someone with hepatitis C to be completely unaware that they have the disease until irreparable damage is done to their liver,” Vitale said. “By increasing awareness and encouraging those with high risk factors to get a simple test by a health care professional, those infected can receive treatment that will help them to continue to live a normal life,” he said.

Worldwide, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of global infectious disease mortality annually, causing approximately 1.4 million deaths, reports the Economic Times. The good news is that in recent times modern medicines are appearing on the market promisng higher cure rates (albeit at costly prices) and when the disease is in the acute phase, a full recovery is possible with early detection.

Get on board to support this important public health cause and sign the petition here.

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