State Health Department Launches Media Campaign To Increase Public Awareness About Hepatitis C

Campaign Urges Hepatitis C Prevention,Testing

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 6, 2009) – The New York State Department of Health (DOH) has launched a statewide public awareness campaign to urge New Yorkers to learn about the hepatitis C virus and to take appropriate preventive steps.

Under Governor David A. Paterson's leadership, nearly $1.6 million was appropriated in the 2008-2009 Executive Budget for the first time ever to establish a comprehensive hepatitis C program in New York State. Included in the program is a $270,000 campaign using billboards, subway and bus shelter advertisements to promote the theme: "Over 200,000 New Yorkers have hepatitis C. Are you one of them?"

A toll-free English/Spanish hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide basic hepatitis C information, locations for testing and hepatitis A and B vaccination, and other resources available to consumers. The hotline number is 1-800-522-5006.

"This campaign draws attention to the fact that thousands of New Yorkers living with chronic hepatitis C are unaware that they have it, because individuals in the early stages of hepatitis C often show no symptoms and are not diagnosed until the disease has advanced," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "For that reason, hepatitis C is called the silent epidemic. It's time to break the silence and raise the volume on awareness, prevention and action about this disease."

Viral hepatitis includes three different viruses than can cause inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis A virus is spread by putting something in the mouth that has been contaminated with the stool of a person who has hepatitis A. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with blood and body fluids of a hepatitis B-infected person. There are vaccines available to prevent infection from hepatitis A and B.

Hepatitis C is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. For example, the virus can be spread by sharing needles or "works" when injecting drugs or having sex with an infected person without using a condom. Hepatitis C can also be spread through needle sticks or "sharps" exposure on the job and from an infected mother to her baby during birth.

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. However, people living with hepatitis C should be vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. If left untreated, hepatitis C can damage the liver, leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer or even death. Because of the danger to the liver, it's also important to avoid alcohol.

"It's important that all New Yorkers know that hepatitis C can be prevented," said Commissioner Daines. "There is no reason we can not drastically reduce or even eliminate the occurrence of hepatitis C in our communities. Anyone who thinks they may have put themselves at risk for hepatitis C should get a blood test and talk with their health care provider."

An estimated 304,000 New Yorkers have been infected with hepatitis C. Of these, nearly 240,000 people are currently living with chronic infections. Up to 5 percent of people with chronic hepatitis C die. Hepatitis C is the leading reason for liver transplants.

Nearly 50 percent of people with chronic hepatitis C are unaware they are infected because they often show no symptoms until advanced liver damage develops. Those who do have symptoms may experience fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

There are drugs licensed for the treatment of chronic hepatitis. However, treatment is not for everyone, and a specialist should be consulted to determine the appropriate course of action.

More information on hepatitis C is available on the DOH website at http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/hepatitis/