Panel to Probe Why One Million
Exposed to Hepatitis C
Source: CNN Interactive, March 5, 1998
A Congressional panel will ask health
officials Thursday why an estimated one million Americans were never told
they were given Hepatitis C-infected blood.
The CDC [Center for Disease Control]
says, as a result, 300,000 were infected. Hepatitis C infects the liver,
causing fatigue, abdominal pain, cirrhosis, and even death. About four
million Americans have Hepatitis C. It's usually spread through
transfusions, IV drug use, and organ transplants. The FDA didn't develop a
test to screen for the disease until 1990.
House panel to conduct hearing on exposure to
CNN Interactive, March 5, 1998
In This Story:
WASHINGTON (CNN) Surgeon General
David Satcher will be one of the witnesses at a congressional hearing on
Thursday that will explore why U.S. citizens had not been notified that
they received blood contaminated with hepatitis C.
The House Government Reform and
Oversight Committee's human resources subcommittee will conduct the
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop
and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the
American Liver Foundation are scheduled to testify.
The hearing will focus on the estimated
1 million Americans who received blood products contaminated with
hepatitis C before 1990, when a test was developed to screen for the
missed an opportunity, critics say
An estimated 300,000 Americans are
infected with hepatitis C as a result of these exposures, according to the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The purpose of the hearing is to review
the federal response to this problem," said U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a
Connecticut Republican who chairs the subcommittee.
He said the government has failed to
notify those exposed by the blood, although the Food and Drug
Administration has considered it on seven different occasions. "We should
have taken action three years ago to notify people that they may, in fact,
have contracted hepatitis C."
Shays and other critics of the
Department of Health and Human Services are concerned that an opportunity
had been missed several years ago to notify people with hepatitis C
because it was thought that the disease was restricted to risk groups like
HHS Secretary Donna Shalala promised to
make the notification a high priority. She wrote one health expert as
recently as January that it is her intent to reach as many at-risk people
Hepatitis C is called a silent epidemic
because many patients don't develop symptoms for decades. Many people who
test positive for hepatitis C have no symptoms at all. They often find out
when they are notified after a blood donation.
"We need to protect the safety of the
blood supply. We did a pathetic job previous to 1992 and our committee had
hearings to determine why so many people had contracted HIV/AIDS. We
learned that many had also contracted hepatitis C. The difference is they
don't know it," Shays said.
Hepatitis C is an infection of the
liver. Some people who contract the disease could develop cirrhosis and
require a liver transplant.
Symptoms include extreme fatigue,
nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal pain.
Treatment is with the drug interferon,
but it is successful less than 20 percent of the time, according to
researchers. A vaccine is more than 10 years away.
More than 4 million people in the United
States may be infected with hepatitis C.
Correspondents Dr. Steve Salvatore and
Jonathan Aiken contributed to this report.
Disease Control and Prevention
American Liver Foundation
Department of Veterans Affairs
Hepatitis Foundation International
The Hepatitis Information Network