Newsom signs bills to expand testing for STDs and hepatitis

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With rates of sexually transmitted diseases and hepatitis B and C on the rise in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two bills on Oct. 4 to address the issue.

Senate Bill 306 will strengthen the public health infrastructure against STDs in California. Assembly Bill 489 makes the Golden State the first in the country to offer voluntary hepatitis B and C tests to adults.

STD Coverage and Care Act
SB 306, the STD Coverage and Care Act, will require health plans to cover home test kits for HIV and STDs; update California’s Accelerated Partner Therapy Act to include supplier liability protections used in other states; enable HIV counselors to administer rapid tests for STDs; and require screening for syphilis in the first and third trimester of pregnancy.

The bill was co-authored by gay state senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and straight ally Senator Dr Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who introduced it in February.

Wiener placed the signing against the backdrop of rising rates of sexually transmitted infections statewide.

“California has a growing problem of STI infections, and we need to do more to get people tested and treated,” Wiener said. “The SB 306 is a huge step forward in creating a much more powerful system for testing and treating STIs. It is a game changer.”

The rate of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea infections in the state – taken together – increased by 40% from 2013 to 2019. With the decline in testing for STDs due to the COVID pandemic -19, experts predict that rates will rise even more in the coming years, as BAR previously reported.

Indeed, the latest publicly available STD report from San Francisco (for July 2021) shows that gonorrhea and syphilis cases are up from the same point in 2020. There were 2,636 gonorrhea cases at the end of the year. July 2021, compared with 2,383 cumulative gonorrhea cases at the end of July 2020; and 1,136 cumulative syphilis cases at the end of July 2021 against 953 cumulative cases of syphilis at the end of July 2020. Chlamydia cases have decreased (3,343 at the end of July 2021, against 3,522 by the end of July 2020).

The rise in cases of congenital syphilis – when a person with syphilis passes the infection to their baby during pregnancy – is of particular concern to health experts.

Nationwide cases of congenital syphilis increased 261% from 2013 to 2018, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of this increase has occurred in the southern and western states, with the crystal meth outbreak in the Central Valley seen as a major reason in California, as BAR previously reported.

“There has been a crystal meth epidemic in the Central Valley for years, with Fresno being a hot spot,” Dr Ina Park, a direct ally who is an associate professor at UCSF School of Medicine, told BAR in March. “Congenital syphilis infections are known to be associated with methamphetamine / maternal substance use, homelessness, lack of access to antenatal care, incarceration. in congenital syphilis. “

Pan’s office issued its own statement in an October 5 press release.

“STI rates across the country have reached crisis levels and this has worsened as an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea has spread across the country,” said Pan. “SB 306 is a critical public health measure, and I am proud to have partnered with such a strong coalition of community health organizations to strengthen public health and expand access to STI diagnosis and treatment by California.”

The bill was co-sponsored by APLA Health, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Essential Access Health, Fresno Barrios Unidos, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and San Francisco AIDS Foundation. APLA Health CEO Craig E. Thompson released a statement Oct.4.

“California is facing an uncontrollable STI crisis that was raging even before the [COVID-19] pandemic – disproportionately impacting youth, people of color and the LGBTQ + community, ”said Thompson. “SB 306 offers a comprehensive approach to strengthening the state’s public health infrastructure and expanding access to STI testing and treatment at a time when they are most desperately needed. . We commend Dr Pan for addressing this urgent matter and thank Governor Newsom for enacting the bill. “

Essential Access Health made its own statement via Twitter in early October 5.

The six co-sponsors made a joint statement later on October 5.

“SB 306 is the bold action California needs to reverse the trend of rising STI rates,” the statement said. “The bill seeks to expand the tools and resources that health providers can use to increase access, reduce transmission of STIs, and improve health outcomes statewide in partnership with advocates, organizations local and community members.

“We commend Dr. Pan for his leadership in introducing this comprehensive and robust approach to STI prevention, and thank Governor Newsom for signing this important step into state law,” the statement continued. “California will once again be at the forefront of innovation and best practice in STI prevention and care, and will serve as a role model for other states to follow.

SF AIDS Foundation Acting CEO Kevin Rogers told BAR that “the adoption of SB 306 is an important step forward in the fight against the outbreak of the STI epidemic in California, and will expand the ” access to STI services to individuals and communities who may be disproportionately affected by STIs and face barriers to accessing quality STI prevention and care. “

“We thank the Governor and the California State Legislature for passing SB 306 and helping to ensure that all Californians have the sexual health resources they need,” Rogers continued.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

AB 789 seeks to fight ‘silent epidemic’ of hepatitis deaths
Newsom also signed AB 789, which was co-authored by Pan, gay MP Evan Low (D-Campbell) and straight MPs Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco).

This bill requires health facilities to begin offering voluntary testing for hepatitis B and C at routine medical appointments, and that care and treatment be provided to those who test positive.

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is spread through exposure to infected blood and body fluids, and is mainly spread through intravenous drug use and intercourse. sexual. It has been preventable by vaccination since 1982.

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. It is spread primarily through exposure to infected blood and is spread primarily through the use of intravenous drugs, poorly disinfected medical equipment, needle stick injuries in the healthcare and blood transfusion industry. There is no vaccine, but antiviral drugs can cure most infections.

A significant number of people infected with hepatitis B (two-thirds) and C (40%) are unaware of their infection, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr Samuel So, professor at Stanford University and director of the Asian Liver Center, said that “by closing the gaps in diagnosis and treatment, AB 789 is important and vital legislation that would help end to the silent epidemic of liver disease and death from liver cancer in California caused by untreated hepatitis B and C. ”

Chiu, who will be leaving the lower house of the Legislative Assembly in a few weeks to become the City of San Francisco attorney, said “expanding access to hepatitis B and C tests will save lives in California. .

“Hepatitis B has a disproportionate impact on our Asian-American communities,” Chiu added. “By signing this bill, California is providing patients with the information they need and is working to address disparate health issues in communities of color.”

Low said he was “so grateful to the coalition that worked on this bill and to Governor Newsom for recognizing that all Californians deserve to have access to hepatitis B and C tests. hepatitis particularly affects so many people with AAPI [Asian American Pacific Islander] and black communities in California, which is why testing is priceless when it comes to keeping loved ones with us for many years to come. “

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