Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) have introduced a bill that would create the first federal response to the hepatitis C epidemic, the most common bloodborne viral infection in the United States. The bill would direct Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson to develop and implement a national prevention and treatment plan that would include screening and counseling programs as well as funding for hepatitis C vaccine research. Hutchison said the federal program in the bill is based on Texas's current prevention and treatment program. "By taking our state's program nationwide, we will help save lives and reduce the spread of this deadly infection through education, early detection, and treatment."
About 4 million Americans are estimated to be infected with the hepatitis C virus. More than 10,000 Americans die each year from the disease, and the National Hepatitis C Advocacy Council predicts that the hepatitis C death rate will triple within the next decade. Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of death among those coinfected with HIV.