Medical Community Calls for More Hepatitis Awareness

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Members of the medical community are calling for lawmakers to help fight New York City's hepatitis cases by raising public awareness.

The Department of Health estimates that more than 240,000 New Yorkers are living with either hepatitis B or C. But physical symptoms may not appear for decades, and a large number of people don't know they are infected.

"Many of these individuals will not know they are infected for years or decades until it has caused irreversible damage to their livers," said Dr. Ponni Perumalswami with the Empire Liver Foundation, calling the issue a "silent epidemic."

According to Dr. Perumalswami, New York City is an epicenter for the spread of viral hepatitis because of its large immigrant population. Instances of hepatitis are centered in the South Bronx and East and Central Harlem, as well as in Sunset Park, Flushing and Chinatown. She urged the Council to increase city funding for hepatitis monitoring.

The City Council is considering a bill requiring an annual report on the city's efforts to identify and prevent the spread of the virus. The Department of Health used to release a regular report on viral hepatitis, but lost funding for it in 2012.