Michigan corrections and health officials are developing ways to fight hepatitis C in the state’s 42 prisons. The Lansing State Journal says an internal work group will study how to expand testing and treatment for the potentially fatal virus. “We see this as an issue that’s not going to go away, and we need to develop some long-term strategies for how we want to address it,” state epidemiologist Matthew Boulton said.
The group’s formation came a day after a two-day series in the State Journal highlighted the state’s failure to address the problem. Between 12,000 and 18,000 of Michigan’s 48,800 prisoners are believed to carry the hepatitis C virus, which can lead to liver failure, cancer, and death. The state is treating just 55 inmates.
Prisoner advocates and health experts say the lack of treatment puts the public at risk of contracting the virus from released prisoners through shared IV needles, unprotected sex, and even shared toothbrushes and nail clippers. Corrections officials say they can’t afford treatment that would cost $130 million a year for all infected inmates. The high cost of treatment has made officials reluctant to conduct widespread testing.
The group will try to determine the best ways to test inmates, which prisoners should be tested, which inmates need treatment and what types of treatment are cost effective, Boulton said. The prevalence study is required under the Corrections Department 2003-04 budget. Officials expect to test between 800 and 1,000 new inmates a month at a cost of about $30,000 over the course of the study. The study must be completed in March.
Prison studies in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia found infection rates between 29 and 54 percent, compared with a 2 percent infection rate in the general U.S. population.