August 7, 2013

With hepatitis C law looming, Putnam starts free testing program

Baby boomer generation targeted for screening.

blogger_HCVPublic health officials are hopeful a new hepatitis C testing program and a proposed screening law will help make more baby boomers take measures against the illness.

The blood infection, if not treated, can cause liver diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer. Causes include exchanging blood during injection drug use and through blood transfusions administered before 1992.

About 4 million Americans are living with the virus. About 17,000 people are diagnosed with hepatitis C each year. Some 15,000 people die from liver complications caused by the disease.

A new rapid screening program, the OraQuick HCV rapid hepatitis C test, began last week at Putnam County’s WIC clinic in Southeast.

State legislation announced at the end of June recommends that baby boomers — people born between 1945 and 1965 — be tested for hepatitis C and would require primary physicians, hospital inpatient units and other facilities to offer screening tests. The bill has passed both the state Senate and Assembly and is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

If signed, the law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, and would be in place until Jan. 1, 2020.

“It will try to capture people from the baby boom era during that time,” said Rachel Gressel, senior communicable disease nurse for the Putnam County Department of Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75 percent of Americans living with hepatitis C are baby boomers.

“That generation was more experimental when they were younger,” Gressel said.


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