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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

    

The Queens Courier Credited With Hepatitis C Reg Breakthrough

by HOWARD GIRSKY

http://www.queenscourier.com/archives/1999/lead070199b.htm

 

 

Physicians throughout New York City will be required to report hepatitis C to the New York City Health Dept. for the first time because of a campaign conducted by The Queens Courier over the past few months, it was announced last week at a Queens medical conference.

Dr. Stephen P. Esposito, the director of liver disease at New York Hospital of Queens and an eminent researcher, told a hepatitis conference last week that the New York City Health Dept. has made the disease a reportable condition because of the newspaper’s campaign and a New York City Council health committee hearing it provoked recently.

"After the Courier article, "Esposito said, "the Health Dept. moved to make hepatitis C a reportable disease. The newspaper made a substantial contribution to the community by publishing the articles."

The new regulation means that hepatitis C, known as the "silent epidemic," will be tracked by physicians throughout the city as in the case of other infectious diseases.

"I just can’t wait to see the numbers a year or two out," Dr. Esposito told a hepatitis support group meeting June 27 at New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens.

He said the new reporting mechanism is particularly important in Queens because of the large immigrant population here with hepatitis C.

"That’s why it’s so important to get this information out."

    

Another Queens liver specialist, Dr. Pat Basu, also credited the reporting requirement to the Courier articles.

"The Health Dept. bombarded me with questionnaires and documents seeking the numbers of cases I treat," he said. "This all occurred following the Courier’s disclosures about the large incidence of hepatitis C cases in Queens."

He called the Health Dept. action "a good idea."

The disease affects 35 million Americans with 30,000 new cases diagnosed every year Yet it produces no symptoms in early stages and most people don’t know they have it and continue to spread it.

Hepatitis C is reportedly four times more prevalent than the AIDS virus and the most common reason for liver transplants in this country.

The medical conference last Sunday included presentations by Dr. Esposito and Dr. Robert Brown, director of the liver transplant service at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

The Hepatitis Education Liver Disease Awareness & Patient Support Project (HELP) was attended by an estimated 100 Queens hepatitis patients who bombarded both physicians with questions about their disease.

The organization’s founding committee members include Teresa Abreu, chairperson and Brenda Cintron, co-chairperson. Dr. Esposito serves as medical advisor. It is the borough’s only Hepatitis support group.

In answer to a question about the importance of a hepatitis C screening program for high risk populations, Brown said that was "controversial."

"But I do believe this is important," he said. "The tests should be performed in doctors’ offices and at Health Dept. stations throughout the city."

    

He emphasized physician education.

"Many pediatricians see hepatitis C as a benign disease," he said. "And it is not."

Brown said that a breakthrough in public understanding of the disease is essential.

"It was brave gay men who demanded that government pay attention to HIV. "We need the same statement for hepatitis C."

Brown introduced his patients, Thomas and Deborah Baker of Electchester. Deborah underwent liver transplant surgery last April 19 at Columbia Presbyterian after she was referred to Dr. Brown by Dr. Esposito.

Baker, an electrician, said his wife was diagnosed with hepatitis C in July of 1998. He donated a large portion of his liver to his wife.

"She’s feeling fine now," Brown said as he clutched his wife’s hand.

Deborah saw Dr. Esposito after her stomach became distended. The examination revealed she had a severe case of hepatitis C.

Deborah spent three and one-half weeks in the hospital, while Thomas was discharged after a week at Columbia Presbyterian.

"I’m feeling fine also," Baker said, "but I miss playing golf."

Brown responded that "you can resume playing golf now," to cheers from the assembled crowd.

A spokesperson for the New York Organ Donor Network said that 1,158 cases are awaiting liver transplants in the metropolitan area, while in 1998, 298 liver transplants were performed.