To the Editor:
Thank you for your coverage of World AIDS Day last Dec. 1. In your interview with me, we touched on the growing problem of Hepatitis C infections. I am writing to correct some information given to you by me, and to also provide greater context for the seriousness of the silent epidemic of Hepatitis C.
There are about 4 million people living with Hepatitis C in the United States and approximately 55 percent of them do not know that they have the infection. A paper published in the journal Liver International this past September estimates that the total number of people in the U.S. infected with Hepatitis C might actually be substantially higher -- at least 5.2 million. Meanwhile, the large number of people who are unaware that they have Hepatitis C are at a much greater risk for severe complications such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. They are also more likely to transmit the virus to others.
Public health officials estimate that there are more than 100,000 people infected with Hepatitis C in Massachusetts and that there are about 7,000 to 10,000 new diagnoses annually. The relevance of this to HIV/AIDS is that a significant percentage of people who are HIV positive also have Hepatitis C, which complicates their treatment. And people who have Hepatitis C are more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Here in Massachusetts, AIDS service organizations like AIDS Action Committee have developed a model to reduce new HIV infections and improve health outcomes for those already infected. That model can be scaled to work for other chronic and behavioral diseases including viral hepatitis. Since Hepatitis C impacts many of the communities in which we have long invested and been active, we are committed to providing services and advocating for better solutions for those infected with Hepatitis C. Providers, community health workers, service organizations, and patients must work collectively to end the spread of blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases. Together these diseases aren’t just costing us billions of dollars. They are -- tragically -- still taking lives.
President & CEO
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts
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