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


Half a Million Californians in Jeopardy; Hearing on Hep C Reveals California Is Unprepared for Latest Public Health Epidemic

PRNewswire - November 12, 1999

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- A California Senate Hearing on hepatitis C today reviewed the Department of Health Services (DHS) and Department of Corrections' handling of a little known, but deadly and pervasive virus -- hepatitis C. The spotlight revealed little action has been taken by either department to stop the spread of the virus which is anticipated to kill more people than AIDS. It is estimated to already have infected 500,000 Californians, more than in any other state in the nation (See following table).

"We believe the hep C infection to already be at epidemic proportions in California. There is still no vaccine to protect us from this virus," said Kathy Barberich, speaking on behalf of the California Hepatitis C Coalition and lifestyle columnist for the Fresno Bee. "We must protect ourselves through education and screening. We need to do it on a statewide level. If infected individuals are identified, they can then take steps to retain their health, stop the spread of the virus and seek treatment."

The estimates for infection prevalence come from a CDC estimate that 1.8% of the general population is infected with the hepatitis C virus (Hepatitis C Virus). However, studies indicate that minority groups are more at risk for hepatitis C. According to John Vierling, M.D., F.A.C.P., Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, California's diverse population may mean California exceeds this national average. Because of a lack of funding within DHS, California does not have statistics available to confirm or deny this assertion.

"We have been unable to find any widespread effort on the part of the Department of Health Services to warn citizens about the virus or investigate the prevalence of the disease," said Phyllis Borchardt, Director of the San Diego Chapter of the American Liver Foundation, a California Hepatitis C Coalition member organization.


The California Department of Corrections appears similarly unprepared to deal with the threat of this virus. Although, a 1994 report from the DHS, Office of AIDS, found a 40% infection rate for hep C in the California prisons, there has been no plan conceived or action taken to stop the spread of the virus within the prison system. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported in 1997 that the department returned more than $1.8 million to the California general fund. The funds had been earmarked for education and health screening.

"To date, there does not appear to be any plan to act on this menace. We know that hep C is running rampant in our prisons and, with the tight living conditions, spreading the virus is an unavoidable fact rather than just a possibility. This is a dangerous situation for prisoners, corrections staff and the public as these infected prisoners are released to the street on parole. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) is urging the Department of Corrections to act on this issue," said Jeff Thompson, CCPOA, a California Hepatitis C Coalition member organization.

"We were disappointed that the Department of Corrections chose not to attend the interim hearing," said Borchardt. "Their absence from this hearing indicates to me that hep C is not a priority for them. If that is the case, it is reprehensible. Corrections has the opportunity to make a big impact on the virus because of the high (40%) infection rate in the system and a target group that is easy to reach to educate. I'd like the opportunity to ask them why they are not making that kind of effort."

Four times more people are infected by Hepatitis C Virus than are infected by HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Hepatitis C infects its victims and lives largely undetected in the body for 20 to 30 years. It is generally discovered after it has caused severe damage to the liver. The disease is often called "The Silent Killer."

Individuals who received a blood transfusion before 1992, have used intravenous drugs, inhaled cocaine, received a tissue or organ Alternative Treatments, or are health care workers or military veterans, are at risk and should consult their physicians about being screened for hep C.


Table 1: Chart based on Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

estimates of 1.8% of population infected with Hepatitis C Virus.


California 32,268,000 680,824

Texas 19,439,000 349,902

New York 18,137,000 326,466

Florida 14,654,000 263,772

Pennsylvania 12,020,000 216,360

Illinois 11,896,000 214,128

Ohio 11,186,000 201,348

Michigan 9,774,000 175,932

New Jersey 8,053,000 144,954

Georgia 7,486,000 134,748

North Carolina 7,425,000 133,650

Virginia 6,734,000 121,212

Massachusetts 6,118,000 110,124

Indiana 5,864,000 105,552

Washington 5,610,000 100,980

Missouri 5,402,000 97,236

Tennessee 5,368,000 96,624

Wisconsin 5,170,000 93,060

Maryland 5,094,000 91,692

Minnesota 4,686,000 84,348

Arizona 4,555,000 81,990

Louisiana 4,352,000 78,336

Alabama 4,319,000 77,742

Kentucky 3,908,000 70,344

Colorado 3,893,000 70,074

South Carolina 3,760,000 67,680

Oklahoma 3,317,000 59,706

Connecticut 3,270,000 58,860

Oregon 3,243,000 58,374

Iowa 2,852,000 51,336

Mississippi 2,731,000 49,158

Kansas 2,595,000 46,710

Arkansas 2,523,000 45,414

Utah 2,059,000 37,062

West Virginia 1,816,000 32,688

New Mexico 1,730,000 31,140

Nevada 1,677,000 30,186

Nebraska 1,657,000 29,826

Maine 1,242,000 22,356

Idaho 1,210,000 21,780

Hawaii 1,187,000 21,366

New Hampshire 1,173,000 21,114

Rhode Island 987,000 17,766

Montana 879,000 15,822

South Dakota 738,000 13,284

Delaware 732,000 13,176

North Dakota 641,000 11,538

Alaska 609,000 10,962

Vermont 549,000 9,882

District of Columbia 529,000 9,522

Wyoming 480,000 8,640

SOURCE California Hepatitis C Coalition

CONTACT: Mary Odbert, 916-658-0144, or Kassy Perry, 916-296-8303, both for the California Hepatitis C Coalition/