Needlesticks are one cause of Hepatitis C infections.

Hepatitis Awareness Campaign Recommended

An IOM committee's report outlines a national strategy for preventing and controlling Hepatitis B and C, calling them "important public health problems" and noting 5.3 million Americans have the diseases in chronic form. They are more common in this country than HIV/AIDS, but awareness is low.

"The current approach to the prevention and control of chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C is not working," the Institute of Medicine's Committee on the Prevention and Control of Viral Hepatitis Infections bluntly states in a new report. "These diseases are not widely recognized as serious public health problems in the U.S. As a result, inadequate resources are being allocated to viral hepatitis prevention, control, and surveillance programs."

The committee said a public awareness campaign is needed to inform the American public, health care workers, and social services providers about the diseases. It notes 5.3 million Americans have the diseases in chronic form, making them more common in this country than HIV/AIDS, but awareness remains low.

The government should provide comprehensive HCV prevention programs for at-risk populations and should expand vaccination programs for both diseases, , the panel concluded. The two diseases cause thousands of cases of liver cancer, liver disease, and deaths each year, with the heaviest toll among Asians, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans.

"Although hepatitis B and C are preventable, the rates of infection have not declined over the past several years, underscoring the conclusion that we have allowed gaps in screening, prevention, and treatment to go unchecked," said committee chair Dr. R. Palmer Beasley, professor of epidemiology and disease control at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. "This report outlines the additional resources and actions needed to reduce the unacceptably high burden of liver disease and cancer associated with these viruses."

The "Hepatitis and Liver Cancer: A National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis B and C" report is available here.

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