Koo Introduces Hepatitis Prevention Legislation

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

A Queens councilman is working with two of his colleagues to increase efforts to identify and prevent the
spread of Hepatitis in New York City.

Councilmembers Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) and Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan)
introduced legislation towards the end of March that would require the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene
to issue an annual report on its work to recognize and stop Hepatitis B and C.

According to the Center for Disease Control, Hepatitis B affects one in 12 Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders. While 1.2 million Americans are infected with the disease, it disproportionally affects those
two ethnicities. The medical condition affects less than five percent of the U.S. population in total.
However, 50 percent of those who do suffer from the illness are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The CDC added that since many people live with the disease without having symptoms, as many as two out of
three Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders live with the virus without knowing they have it.

Koo, who is a pharmacist by trade, said that the bill would help community-based organizations, health
professionals and government partners to combat new infections and to make sure that the proper care is
available for those affected by the medical condition.

If passed, Koo’s legislation would require an annual report to be submitted to both the City Council and
the Mayor. The report would include infection rates, identified causes of new incidents, demographic
data, the number of deaths and liver cancers, the number of vaccinations completed for the disease,
funding for the previous fiscal year allotted for Hepatitis B and C programs and more.

“It’s a very dangerous disease if you don’t take care of it and it can be transferred to other people,”
Koo said, adding that Hepatitis can be just as serious as cancer or AIDS.

There are several barriers to Hepatitis B screenings in the United States for Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders, according to the CDC. Besides the language barrier, there is a lack of knowledge and awareness
of the disease and its dangers. Many immigrants who do know about the illness may have cultural beliefs
that attach a stigma to a positive Hepatitis B diagnosis. A lack of health insurance also contributes to
a low testing rate for this community.

Koo said he has been working on Hepatitis outreach and awareness in his district since before he was
elected to office.

“Two or three times a year, our office sponsors seminars with local Hepatitis doctors,” he said. “So
people are not afraid of it. It is a treatable disease.”

The councilman added that people who are unusually tired or suffer from jaundice should get tested for
Hepatitis as soon as possible. He added that whenever your blood is drawn for a check-up, you can ask to
be tested for Hepatitis at no additional cost.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.