Advocates Launch Action Campaign and Petition Drive, Call for Legislature to Pass Hepatitis C Testing Legislation
Trenton—To commemorate World Hepatitis Day, advocates are launching the Hepatitis C Action Campaign and collecting petition signatures urging the New Jersey Legislature to take action on Senate Bill 876 / Assembly Bill 2555, which would require hospitals and health care professionals to offer hepatitis C testing to people born between 1945 and 1965. Three quarters of individuals with hepatitis C are in this age group and the vast majority are unaware that they are infected with the virus.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease spread by through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected person. If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause extensive liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and ultimately death. Because it has no symptoms people often go for decades without discovering they are infected, allowing the virus to progress untreated and with devastating consequences. Early diagnosis can improve health outcomes and facilitate access to curative treatments.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C. African Americans and veterans also have substantially higher rates of hepatitis C infection. More people now die from hepatitis C than die from HIV/AIDS in the United States. Without concerted action, the CDC predicts that deaths from hepatitis C will double or even triple in the next 20 years. Widespread testing will enable those infected to receive life-saving treatment and prevent transmission to others.
“We are incredibly excited to be launching this campaign with such an inspiring group of public health advocates,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “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.”
Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Chairman Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), the prime sponsor of the senate legislation, emphasizes that, “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. 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. 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.”
Lisa Gallipoli, Executive Director of the Greater New York Division of the American Liver Foundation, which serves North Jersey, says “It is an exciting time for the treatment of hepatitis C. Just about every patient with the disease is a candidate for the latest generation of drugs, which offer treatment and cure with far less side effects than previous treatment regimens. More than ever, it is critical that patients are getting tested and diagnosed, and this legislation will help to make this happen.”
Senate Bill 876 is sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) and Senator Richard Codey (D-Essex and Morris). The Assembly companion, A2555, is sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon and Mercer).
The Hepatitis C Action Campaign and Senate Bill 876 / Assembly Bill 2555 are supported by a coalition of public health, nonprofit, and advocacy organizations, including the New Jersey office of the Drug Policy Alliance, the Hepatitis C Association, the Greater New York and Mid-Atlantic Divisions of the American Liver Foundation, the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, the North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI), Paterson Counseling Center, Camden AHEC, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, Well of Hope Community Development Corporation, Inc., Comprehensive Liver Care of New Jersey, Iris House, Buddies of New Jersey, Inc., PROCEED, Inc., Hepatitis Foundation International, Vietnam Veterans of America, The Wave Set, and Trinitas Regional Medical Center – Early Intervention Program.