A bill designed to draw attention to what is being called a “silent epidemic” — viral hepatitis, especially among baby boomers — has passed the state Senate.
State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said passage recently of his bill declaring May to be Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month is especially good timing, given that the federal Centers for Disease Control has announced it intends to increase testing of the baby boomer generation in an attempt “to mitigate the disturbing increase in hepatitis deaths.”
“Federal officials agree that we are seeing an alarming trend in hepatitis fatalities, particularly those in the baby boomer generation,” Blakeslee said in a news release. “Failure to take action on what has been called the ‘silent epidemic’ could be detrimental to the health care of our state.”
Viral hepatitis, he said, is a serious epidemic throughout the world.
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In California, more than 450,000 people are chronically infected with hepatitis C and 280,000 are chronically infected with hepatitis B, Blakeslee said.
“However, many infected individuals can unknowingly carry the disease for decades and only discover their positive status when they have been diagnosed with advanced liver disease or liver cancer,” he said.
Newly released statistics show three out of every four people with hepatitis are of the baby boomer generation. The CDC has recently signaled that it will change its testing recommendations later in the year from testing only those with risk factors to recommending that all individuals born between 1945 and 1965 be tested.
The California Hepatitis Alliance says the cost of hospitalizations for hepatitis B and hepatitis C-related liver cancer, liver disease and liver transplantation has exceeded $2 billion in California.
It lauded the public attention being given to the problem, which the alliance says, “play(s) a major role in educating the public about the need to be screened for hepatitis B and C and (find) ways to prevent transmission, including vaccination against hepatitis B.”
This is the fourth year Blakeslee has partnered with local organizations, such as the AIDS Support Network and the San Luis Obispo Prevention, Advocacy, and Care Consortium, to author a resolution to increase viral hepatitis awareness in California.