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U.S. Surgeon General introduces Hepatitis C education campaign
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and a key House Republican Thursday took steps to increase public awareness about Hepatitis C, a common disease that affects nearly four million people in the United States and more than 100 million people worldwide. Many of those infected do not even know they have it.
Satcher and Rep. Thomas Bliley, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, announced they are sending a pair of letters to all 435 members of the House of Representatives in the hopes that they will help spread information about the potentially deadly virus.
Satcher hopes to have the same kind of outreach that former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had with his "AIDS letter" in 1986, when brochures about the HIV epidemic were sent to U.S. households.
Koop managed the campaign because he had free postal privileges, something the current surgeon general does not have. According to Satcher's office, sending the letter would cost an estimated $40 million, an impossible task given Satcher's $1 million-a-year budget.
For that reason, Satcher's letter is being sent to every member of the House, in the hopes that those members will pass it on to their constituents. A separate letter from Bliley urges his House colleagues to distribute Satcher's letter.
"Every day of delay could mean increased harm to infected individuals whose livers may be gradually destroyed by chronic liver disease and to advise these individuals not to drink alcohol to prevent the multiplier effect of harm," Bliley wrote.
A spokesperson for the surgeon general said the efforts were "win-win all around."
"The public wins, public health wins, and Congress wins," the spokesperson said.
The surgeon general's office has been active in other Hepatitis C education efforts, including radio and print ads and brochures. "This is just another way to get the word out," said the spokesperson. "It's a chance to build on what we're already doing."
People at risk for Hepatitis C include those who received a blood transfusion or an organ transplant prior to 1992, when there was no known test to screen for the virus, those given clotting factors prior to 1987, intravenous drug users and those who have engaged in high-risk sexual activity.
The Virtual Office of the Surgeon General
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