Journal News (Westchester County) (08.04.2013)
With last week’s launch of a rapid screening program at a local clinic, Putnam County became the first New York county to offer free hepatitis C testing ahead of a proposed new statewide bill that would require health facilities and some other organizations to offer screening tests.
New York’s public health officials hoped the proposed new bill would encourage baby boomers to get tested. According to CDC, baby boomers accounted for 75 percent of people infected with hepatitis C. If left untreated, hepatitis C could cause liver diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer. Most modes of transmission have been through blood exchange, either by sharing needles or receiving blood transfusions before 1992. Approximately 4 million people in the United States currently are infected with hepatitis C, with close to 17,000 new diagnoses each year. Approximately 15,000 deaths from liver complications associated with the disease occur annually.
Last week, the Putnam County Women, Infants, and Children Clinic began offering the OraQuick HCV rapid test, which involves a finger prick and takes only 20 minutes to provide results. “Previously, if people suspected hepatitis C, they would have to go to a primary physician or specialist and get blood drawn. Now, they can get results a lot faster,” said Rachel Gressel, senior communicable disease nurse for the Putnam County Department of Health.
The bill, currently awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) signature, would be in effect for six years, beginning January 1, 2014. “It will try to capture people from the baby boom era during that time,” Gressel said. She added, “If test results are positive, we’ll help the patient make an appointment with a medical provider for a hepatitis C confirmatory test.”