May 10, 2000
4 Million Americans Infected with Hepatitis C
That is 5 times more than HIV
Oklahoma City, OK (SafetyAlerts) - An estimated 4 million
Americans have been infected with hepatitis C, five times the number of those infected
with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The Oklahoma State Department of Health estimates
more than 50,000 Oklahomans have been infected with hepatitis C.
"Many Oklahomans are unaware of their
infection because they do not feel ill," said State Health Commissioner J.R. Nida,
M.D. "This is a major public health concern, if we are to detect the infection and
limit hepatitis C transmission."
The word "hepatitis" means inflammation
of the liver. Although there are many causes of inflammation, viral infection is a common
cause. Viral infections include hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A is transmitted by close personal
contact with a person with the disease or ingestion of food contaminated by a person
infected with hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are infections transmitted
primarily through blood. The majority of people infected with hepatitis A and B recover
from illness and are considered immune.
In contrast, up to 85 percent of those infected
with hepatitis C cannot clear the infection and the virus continues to multiply within
their body. These people are referred to as "chronically infected" with
hepatitis C and are potentially contagious to others. About half of chronically infected
persons will eventually develop liver disease, such as cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.
Nida said the primary risk factors for hepatitis C
include injecting-drug use and exposure to blood in the health-care setting. Sexual
transmission may occur but the risk appears to be low. Blood transfusion-associated cases
that occurred prior to blood donor screening are now very rare.
"Symptoms of all viral hepatitis are similar
and include yellowing of the skin, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and bouts of
nausea and vomiting. When initially infected with hepatitis C, only one of ten people will
have symptoms. It can be years, even decades, before a person chronically infected with
hepatitis C begins to experience symptoms serious enough to prompt seeking medical
care," Nida said.
Testing for hepatitis C is available through one's
physician. A screening test may also be obtained at an Oklahoma Blood Institute site for
$10.00. Persons for whom testing is recommended include those who received a blood
transfusion or organ transplant prior to July 1992, those who received clotting factor
concentrates prior to 1987, chronic hemodialysis patients, persons who ever injected
illegal drugs, even if a few times many years ago, health care and public safety workers
after exposure to HCV-positive blood and children born to hepatitis C-positive women.
Several drugs are licensed for the treatment of
hepatitis C and are effective for many, but not all, of persons infected with hepatitis C.
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