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Hepatitis C Ruling in VA Could Impact Prisons Across Country

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Monday, September 17, 2018   

RICHMOND, Va. — After being refused the most up-to-date medical care for Hepatitis C while incarcerated at the Buckingham Correctional Center, Elmo Augustus Reid now is receiving potentially life-saving treatment thanks to a recent victory in court.

As many as 60 percent of people in Virginia's prisons suffer from the "silent" infection that attacks the liver, according to an estimate provided by medical authorities to the Virginia General Assembly. However, the best possible treatment is denied because of expenses that can run $20,000-$50,000 for a single course of treatment.

University of Virginia law professor George Rutherglen represents Reid and said the win could be pivotal on a national scale.

"This case involved one prisoner,” Rutherglen said, “but it's part of a wave of litigation all around the country trying to expand the treatment for chronic Hepatitis C."

Prison officials agreed to settle the case after their motion for summary judgment was denied. Rutherglen said depending on the region, anywhere from 10-60 percent of people in prison carry Hepatitis C, which has life-threatening effects including causing liver cancer or cirrhosis.

Rutherglen argued that people can't be sent to prison and left to die of liver failure. He said that shows deliberate indifference to serious medical need, which constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. As for the cost of care, he said tackling the issue actually can save money.

"They cure the disease, and they're much less expensive than treating cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer,” Rutherglen said.

A similar lawsuit was filed in Florida last year, where a federal judge ruled that treatment was lacking and more prisoners needed to be diagnosed and properly treated.

The infection causes other issues such as joint pain and extreme fatigue. It can be spread through needle usage from tattoos or illegal drug injection.


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