Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Hepatitis C Pandemic

There was a recent article in US News & World Report (March 13, 2006) about it and recently I’ve noticed it as a “contributing factor” on a few more death certificates (“natural” deaths). 4 million people are infected with it, 3 times as more prevalent than HIV, and some 10,000 people die as a result of it each year in this country. That “it” is Hepatitis C.

About 80% of the time an individual becomes infected with the Hepatitis C virus they will develop chronic liver infection (hepatitis). Of those individuals about 20% go on, over 20-30 years, to develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver. Of those 20% (i.e. approximately 4 of an original 100 infected) develop lethal liver failure and 30% may develop liver cancer. That 20-30 year progression period is “up” for a rapidly growing number of individuals and symptomatic disease is increasing dramatically.

There is treatment available that can be effective in about 50% of cases (depending on the Hepatitis C virus subtype they are infected with), but the treatment has side effects that can make it difficult to stick with it. Liver transplantation may be available for those who develop liver failure, but of those added to the transplant list each year 10% die before a transplant is available. Also, the Hepatitis C sometimes comes back after the transplant.

As with so many diseases, it is best not to get Hepatitis C than to try to treat or cure it after an individual has it. Keep in mind it is easier to transmit Hepatitis C than HIV (it takes a smaller amount of the virus/blood and it is a hardier virus). Don’t share needles. That should be obvious with IV drug use, but it also pertains to “home” piercings (ears, navels, etc) and “home” tattoos. Avoid, be careful with, possible blood (theirs out of their body) to blood (yours in your body) contact, that’s how it is transmitted. While the jury is still out regarding sexual transmission, there are certainly enough other reasons to take precautions (but this may be on that list). One last note: in this country we haven’t had to worry about blood transfusion transmission of Hepatitis C since 1992.

Be careful, don’t take chance, make good choices.

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