Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Hepatitis C Plagues Inmates and Officers in Michigan Prisons

There was a chilling series in the Lansing State Journal reporting that
Between 12,000 and 18,000 of Michigan's 48,800 prisoners are believed to harbor the hepatitis C virus. Yet the state - citing cost and effectiveness of available drugs - is treating just 55. Prison officials say they don't know how many guards are infected.
Hello? Why don't they know how many guards are affected? How about confidential screening? Seems like important information to have.

Hepatitis C is nothing to scoff at:
Four times more prevalent than HIV, health experts say hepatitis C, a potentially fatal virus that attacks the liver, is now the infection causing the greatest threat to public health in modern times.

A third of all cases are among prisoners.

Consider these facts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • In the 14 years since its discovery, hepatitis C has become the most chronic blood-borne infection in the United States.

  • It's the No. 1 reason for liver transplants nationwide, accounting for about 1,000 procedures a year - about 50 of those in Michigan.

  • By 2010, hepatitis C will kill 30,000 people a year - twice as many Americans as AIDS.
"This is a huge public health issue that must be addressed, or it will only get worse," said Dr. Robert Griefinger, former chief medical officer for the New York State Department of Correctional Medical Services.

Hepatitis C is the only strain of the virus for which there is no vaccine or cure. But drug therapy can reduce the virus to undetectable levels in up to 80 percent of patients.