Flanigan recently noted that the number of people infected with Hepatitis C in New York State is probably three times higher than the current statistics indicate because 75 percent of those infected do not notice symptoms until late stages of infection, sometimes decades after they get the disease. Doctors don't routinely test for Hepatitis C, so many infections go undiagnosed.
Nationally, deaths from Hepatitis C have now surpassed those caused by HIV. "But unlike HIV, hepatitis C is curable", Flanigan notes. These facts make rolling out a plan for better screening and treatment even more important.
New York State's plan to address the problem is aided by the fact that a new rapid test to detect Hepatitis C antibodies was approved for use late last year. The new test allows patients to be screened in about 20 minutes instead of days. It is being used in Albany County, New York, by healthworkers visiting Capital neighborhoods in mobile vans. This project is operated by Project Safe Point and the AIDS Council.
The NYSDOH is planning additional initiatives including the distribution of posters and "palm cards" to individuals and clinics Statewide. The materials will highlight the widespread but silent nature of Hepatitis C and the need to be screened. The State will also purchase thousands of rapid test kits to distribute to clinics, drug treatment and other facilities in New York.
These initiatives support the CDC's National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, and World Hepatitis Day on July 28, 2012.*
Next year's New York State budget includes over $2 million to continue to improve Hepatitis care at community clinics and other facilities in new York.
*watch for more information on National Hepatitis Testing Day and World Hepatitis Day over the next weeks on this blog!