The Institute of Medicine, a branch of the US National Academy of Sciences, is calling for increased resources and focus on viral hepatitis.

According to a new Institute of Medicine report, 3 million to 5 million people in the United States are chronically infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C (HCV), a number far greater than those carrying the HIV virus.

But neither the federal government nor state governments pay much attention to screening and treatment for viral hepatitis.

About 15,000 people die from liver diseases caused by HBV or HCV each year.

“Although hepatitis B and C are preventable, 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 R. Palmer Beasley, MD, chair of the panel that drafted the report.

Another panel member pointed out that the federal budget includes very little funding for viral hepatitis.

“Chronic viral hepatitis is probably one of the most neglected public health problems in the country,” said Samuel So, MD.

Part of the reason for the neglect is likely the fact that many of the 3.9 million people who have chronic HCV in the US are injection drug users.

I know that in my state, the number of people infected with HCV dwarfs the number infected with HIV.  Yet the state Department of Health has an entire department focused on HIV, and not a single staff position for HCV.

Our advocacy is important in this area.  This must change.

Read more about the IOM report here.

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