<p>Tony Newman 646-335-5384<br />
Roseanne Scotti (609) 610-8243</p>
Trenton—To commemorate Hepatitis Testing Day, the Hepatitis C Action Campaign coalition and patient advocates are urging the General Assembly to approve and Governor Christie to sign 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. The legislation would also authorize certain laboratories to perform rapid hepatitis C testing. Senate Bill 876 was approved by the full Senate early this year and its companion, Assembly Bill 2555, is awaiting consideration by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected 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.
“This legislation is urgently needed,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Hepatitis C is a silent killer that must be stopped. Because people often don’t show symptoms for many years, most people are unaware they are infected. Expanded testing is needed so people know their status and can act to get care and treatment.”
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.
“By incorporating Hep C testing into regular medical care we diminish the stigma of the disease, educate people about their status and prevent the transmission to others. Most importantly, we connect people to treatment before this terrible disease wreaks havoc on their body,” said Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex), Chairman Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “I am hopeful that my colleagues in the Assembly take this bill up before the Legislature goes on summer recess.”The month of May is designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month in the United States and
May 19th is Hepatitis Testing Day. During May, the CDC and groups like the American Liver Foundation work to raise awareness surrounding this silent killer and encourage those most at risk to get tested.
Lisa Gallipoli, Executive Director of the Greater New York Division of the American Liver Foundation, which serves North Jersey, said “When it comes to Hepatitis C it is simple – Treat – Test- Cure! It has never been more important to TEST – find out who has Hep C; TREAT – get those with Hep C on treatment; CURE – Hep C is CURABLE for over 90% of the individuals who receive treatment. This legislation would do just that!”
Dr. Andrew N. de la Torre MD, FACS, a liver transplant surgeon and Director of the Liver, Pancreas & Biliary Surgery at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, said “I cannot think of a justifiable reason not to pass this bill. It would be a huge opportunity to save thousands of lives that are lost to liver failure and liver cancer. Even though the cost to treat hepatitis C seems expensive, it is far more expensive and painful to treat and watch patients die from liver failure or advanced liver cancer. Even after receiving a liver transplant, patients require treatment for Hep C; so why not treat them earlier and possibly avoid the need for and costs of a liver transplant?”
Senate Bill 876 is sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), Senator Richard Codey (D-Essex and Morris) and Senator Fred Madden (D-Camden and Gloucester). 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 patients, physicians, and 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., African American Office of Gay Concerns, Hepatitis Foundation International, Vietnam Veterans of America, The Wave Set, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center (Camden), Atlantic Gastroenterology Associates, and Trinitas Regional Medical Center – Early Intervention Program.