I applaud the recent article “As hepatitis C surges, state plans action” (Nov. 24, Page A1). The most shocking part of the story, however, was buried on Page A10: More than 500 Maine prisoners, having been diagnosed with hepatitis C, receive no treatment.

Can we be alarmed at the 51 new cases this year and not be alarmed that over 500 people have been identified with hepatitis C, are in the care of the state of Maine and have not received treatment?

The consequences of lack of treatment are clear: “fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal and joint pain, jaundice, liver failure and eventual death.” Withholding treatment from people who have no alternative access to medical services condemns these men and women to certain suffering and early death.

They are not the only ones at risk. In the tight confines of prison, other inmates, corrections officers and staff are also vulnerable. Contact with someone’s blood, whether it be in a toothbrush or a razor, can also expose one to the virus.

Over 85 percent of Maine’s inmates will eventually be released. Hundreds of inmates positive for hepatitis C have already returned to their communities untreated. Is it any wonder that community hepatitis C cases are on the rise?

I wholeheartedly applaud the governor’s decision to expand the needle exchange program. Prevention should always be our first line of defense. However, from a community health standpoint, the decision to withhold medical services from inmates puts us all at risk. From an ethical standpoint, it is unconscionable.

Jan M. Collins

assistant director, Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition

East Wilton

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