4 Million Often Hidden US
Hep C Cases Raising Great Fears
By Kathleen Fackelmann
Note - Some sources claim the number of infected is at least 7 million. Hepatitis C is an often fatal viral liver infection which, like HIV, shows no symptoms in its early infectious stages. Hepatitis C is a blood cell vectored disease which can be spread in KISSING because of the simple fact that 50% of people have blood cells in their saliva at all times because of poor gum health. Approximately 90% of people will show blood cells in their saliva from passionate kissing or simply brushing their teeth. -ed.
The need for liver transplants will triple in the next 10 years, mainly as a result of silent hepatitis C infections now smoldering in 4 million mostly unsuspecting Americans, a study out Tuesday says.
Among those at risk: boomers who experimented with drugs in the '70s and '80s.
The study, by liver specialist Gary Davis, of the University of Florida, Gainesville, is the first to quantify the future impact of hepatitis C.
It also predicts the number of liver failure deaths annually due to this virus will skyrocket from the current 8,800 to 28,000 in the year 2008.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can quietly damage the liver over decades, with mild or no symptoms. It is spread through contact with tainted blood - in a transfusion, for example, or injecting illegal drugs.
''There are millions of Americans who have experimented with drugs and have developed hepatitis C as a result,'' says Neil Kaplowitz, a liver disease specialist at the University of Southern California.
Even people who have snorted cocaine are at risk. Straws used to inhale cocaine can contain virus-infected blood droplets, says Davis, who presented his findings in Chicago to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.
The U.S. Public Health Service has launched a campaign to find people who unknowingly may have received tainted blood before 1992 and notify them so they can be tested for hepatitis C. Starting in 1992, the nation's blood banks have rigorously screened blood for this virus.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges those who think they are at risk to seek a blood test. New drug treatments can prevent liver damage if infection is detected early.
Infection with hepatitis C usually produces mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. ''It's a very insidious, smoldering disease process,' Kaplowitz says.
New drug treatments, such as a combination of interferon and ribavirin can, in many cases, clear the virus from the blood and prevent liver damage, he says.
The one-two drug punch cleared hepatitis C from the blood in at least 30% of cases, says Eugene Schiff, a liver specialist at the University of Miami.
U.S. and European researchers presented data from two studies of the combo therapy at the Chicago meeting.