Matt Curtis works at VOCAL New York, a statewide, community-based membership organization that advocates for a just and healthy New York.
By Matt Curtis | July 06, 2013
New York’s hepatitis C epidemic demands urgent action. The virus – which now kills more Americans annually than HIV/AIDS – is the leading cause of serious liver disease, and if left untreated may cause debility, cirrhosis, or cancer. The baby boomer generation born between 1945 and 1965 has been found to have the highest prevalence of any age group. But because hepatitis C often takes decades to begin causing symptoms, most of those living with the disease are not aware.
This issue is especially relevant for Syracuse. The state Department of Health has estimated that more than 7,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis C in Onondaga County. But with just over 2,000 people diagnosed, the Syracuse region may have one of the highest rates of undiagnosed hepatitis C in New York. Statewide, researchers recently estimated that about half of the 286,000 New Yorkers thought to have been exposed to the virus have not been tested. In addition to baby boomers, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected. Many individuals were infected through blood transfusions before screening was introduced in 1992; others through any history of injection drug use.
Governor Cuomo now has an opportunity to take a critical step toward giving the epidemic the attention it deserves by signing legislation recently passed by the state Assembly and Senate. If signed into law, this would require hospitals and general practitioners to offer a hepatitis C test to anyone born between 1945 and 1965. The legislation was introduced by Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, Jr., who lost his father to the disease in 2007, and has become a major champion of hepatitis C prevention, care and treatment in the state.