U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein
(D-Calif.) and Charles Schumer
(D-N.Y.) respectively are concerned about an anti-malarial drug that may cause brain damage among servicemen and the spread of Hepatitis C among suburbanites who use illicit drugs and have unprotected sex.
Both senators want the federal government to take immediate action to deal with these health problems.
In a Jan. 21 letter to Defense Secetary Donald Rumsfeld, Feinstein said she understands that "eighteen service members have been diagnosed with permanent brainstem and vestibular damage after having been on a regimen of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine (Lariam)...I believe we should be doing everything we can to protect the health of service members and veterans..."
She called for a broad-based investigation of the treatment and the drug, saying it should include representatives of "a variety of medicial disciplines as well as representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention....
"There is much we do not know about the potential risks of the use of mefloquine in service members, but I believe that a scientifically valid and effective
investigation of this drug must include input from all of those sources," she said.
Schumer in a Jan. 18 news release said he will join Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) and Kay Bailey Huchison (R-Tex)
in "co-sponsoring the Hepatitis C Epidemic Control and Prevention Act, which will:
•Require the US Department of Health and Human Services to develop and implement a plan for the
prevention, control, and management of hepatitis C virus, which will include strategies for
education and training, surveillance and early detection, and research. The bill will also require
HHS to conduct an assessment of their plan every other year to ensure that it is working and make
any required changes.
•Require the Federal Government to support the development of voluntary State, local, and tribal
hepatitis C testing programs and counseling. It will also provide individuals infected with
hepatitis C to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B and other infectious diseases.
•Create shared Hepatis C surveillance databases.
•Establish a Hepatitis C Clinical Research Network.
•Direct the National Institutes of Health to establish a Liver Disease Research Advisory Board."
Schumer said the disease has been growing dramatically on Long Island with over 11,000 current cases, and that it could "pose a greater threat than the emergence of HIV two decades ago ."
The senator added that "while it is known that the disease is spread through shared
intravenous drug needles, unsanitary tattoo needles, and unclear body piercing equipment, the
incidence is also very high among nasal cocaine users who deny intravenous drug use."
He said medical experts have hypothesized that "this may be because microscopic drops of blood may be inhaled off of shared straws used to snort drugs. It may also be
because crystal meth, cocaine, and other drug users may not remember that they engaged in at-risk
activities like unprotected sex acts that they performed while high. And many hepatitis C
infections have resulted from blood transfusions in the 1970s, before the virus was screened in the
blood supply." —Donald