By Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)
our country and around the world, hepatitis B and C have taken
countless lives and the numbers continue to explode. Regrettably, this
rise is partially tied to the heroin epidemic in our country—since the
1990s the medical use and subsequent abuse of highly addictive opioids
like Oxycontin has risen tremendously
The overuse of medication
has caused too many Americans to succumb to addiction, and many turn to
heroin. The rise in heroin use means that individuals are sharing
needles as their need for the drug outweighs safety concerns.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there were nearly 30,000 new
hepatitis C infections in 2013, a 150 percent increase since 2010. The
CDC also found an alarming rise in new infections among people under the
age of 30, especially in rural areas.
infection, driven by drug abuse, threatens an alarming portion of an
entire generation of Americans. We must do everything we can to help
address heroin and opioid addiction.
Hepatitis C and hepatitis B
are life threatening yet preventable diseases. Look at the story of Rob,
of Hawaii. He met his wife Mei over 30 years ago when they were
students at the University of Hawaii.
She is Chinese from Hong Kong, and
he is Caucasian. In the over 30 years since they first met they’ve
built a life in Hawaii. They have two kids in their 20s—both college
educated and looking to build families and lives of their own.
Their life was great—until Mei suddenly became ill. Only weeks after first taking ill, Mei passed away from liver failure.
add to this incredible tragedy, shortly before Mei’s passing they
learned that not only Mei – but both of their children – had been
infected by hepatitis B since birth.
For over 30 years, they’d never known that they were infected by hepatitis.
is 100 times more infectious than the HIV virus, and in the U.S.
perinatal transmission, or being passed from mother to child immediately
before or after birth, is one of the primary ways that people contract
the disease. It’s a silent killer that slowly destroys the liver, often
displaying no symptoms in those infected with the virus until it is too
late – the liver is diseased, riddled with cancer, cirrhosis, or
Around the world, four hundred million people
are living with hepatitis B or C. 1.4 million people die annually from
complications due to viral hepatitis. In the United States,
approximately 6 million individuals have hepatitis B or C, likely an
underestimate. Both hepatitis B and C are the leading causes of liver
cancer, and 65-75 percent of infected individuals do not know that they
have either virus.
The difficulty with identifying the disease
means that we do not have accurate data on infections. Without accurate
data, we do not have a strong grasp of the scope of the problem. If we
don’t take decisive action soon, our health care system will face a
significant burden in decades to come.
We simply cannot handle the costs of the rampant spread of a disease whose complications are entirely preventable.
Stopping hepatitis has to be a three-step process.
people need to get tested, especially those in the Asian American and
Pacific Islander communities, of which one in 10 will get hepatitis B.
Second, we need to make treatment options available to everyone regardless of income level.
And third, we must continue to invest in research on hepatitis to rid the world of the viruses once and for all.
week, we recognized World Hepatitis Day, a day that President Obama
declared by proclamation for the first time in the United States. This
day was an opportunity to make a new commitment to educating people
about the silent killers, helping prevent further infection rate spikes,
identifying infected individuals, and providing them with proper
Working together, we can eradicate this preventable, treatable virus and save millions of lives.
is Hawaii’s junior senator, serving since 2013. She sits on the Armed
Services; the Energy and Natural Resources; the Small Business and
Entrepreneurship; and the Veterans’ Affairs committees. Honda represents
California’s 17th Congressional District and has served in the House
since 2001. He sits on the Appropriations Committee.
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