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U.S. News

Michigan: Prisons Acting as an Incubator for Hepatitis C Virus

October 1, 2003

Hepatitis C is spreading in Michigan's prisons, threatening the lives of inmates and the public as released prisoners spread the virus to families, friends and others. Between 12,000 and 18,000 of the state's 48,800 prisoners are believed to have HCV, which by 2010 will cause more deaths in the United States than AIDS, according to CDC.

The Lansing State Journal reported Sunday that Michigan's handling of HCV has discouraged testing and prevented prisoners from knowing they are infected -- resulting in some inmates unwittingly spreading the virus when they leave prison.

Corrections officials say they are overwhelmed by HCV and cannot afford the estimated $130 million a year needed to treat infected inmates. "There's no way we could treat every infected inmate with the resources available," said Dr. George Pramstaller, chief medical officer of the Michigan Department of Corrections' Bureau of Health Care Services.

But prisoner advocates and health experts say that estimate is inflated, and that many inmates would decline the drugs, which cause side effects. They maintain that only the sickest would need help.

With 20-40 percent of the nation's prison population believed to have HCV, experts say treating inmates will help curb its spread among the general public. "That's going to protect me and everyone else," said Ed Harrison, president of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

Once in prison, inmates accelerate HCV's spread through sex and sharing items like razors and toothbrushes. According to CDC, up to 3 percent of infected inmates acquired the virus while in prison.

A federal lawsuit accuses the MDC, its health care provider and others of negligence when it failed to share results of tests showing an inmate to be HCV-infected. The prisoner's medical file indicated he tested positive at least four times beginning in September 1998. The prisoner did not know he had HCV until July 2001, when he was accidentally shown his medical file.

"They let an infected person walk free without even telling them to be careful," said Steven Croley, a lawyer for the prisoner and his girlfriend. Prison officials declined to comment on the case.

Back to other news for October 1, 2003

Adapted from:
Associated Press

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.