Sen. Kerry calls for national hepatitis strategy

Sen. John Kerry (D – Mass.) introduced legislation on August 4 that would fund and direct the Department of Health and Human Services to create a national strategy to control viral hepatitis.

"Viral hepatitis is a silent killer," Kerry said, according to The Hill. "Most people don’t even know they have hepatitis until it causes liver damage or even cancer years after the initial infection. We can easily avoid these needless tragedies with prevention, surveillance programs and by educating Americans about this deadly disease."

Kerry’s bill will release almost $600 million in funds over five years to fight the disease. Hepatitis B or C afflicts approximately 5.3 million Americans, causing the deaths of between 12,000 to 15,000 annually. It disproportionately affects African and Asian Americans.

The bill, known as the “Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control and Prevention Act,” has the support of many community-based organizations, The Hill reports.

"Senator Kerry’s legislation is urgently needed to modernize our nation’s public health response to chronic viral hepatitis," Lorren Sandt, chair of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, said in a statement to The Hill. "Screening and early intervention are critical to achieving better outcomes for infected patients and must be a national priority. Otherwise, our system will incur — each and every year — thousands of avoidable deaths and billions of dollars in unnecessary costs."