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Medical News

10 Million Illegal Drug Users Have Hepatitis C: Study

July 28, 2011

The first study to estimate global hepatitis B and C virus infection rates among injection drug users (IDUs) finds fully two-thirds have been exposed to HCV, while HBV rates vary from country to country.

Australian researchers examined HCV data from 77 countries and HBV data from 59 countries. The HCV infection rate among IDUs ranged from 60 percent to 80 percent in 25 countries, including Spain (80 percent), Norway (76 percent), Germany (75 percent), France (74 percent), the United States (73 percent), China (67 percent), and Canada (64 percent). Twelve nations had infection rates higher than 80 percent, including Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Pakistan, and Thailand. In Mexico, 97 percent of IDUs were HCV-infected.

Approximately 80 percent of HCV infections among these IDUs will become chronic, and up to 11 percent will develop cirrhosis within two decades. The health and economic costs of IDU-spread HCV may be as high as or higher than for similarly transmitted HIV cases, the authors said.

HBV rates among IDUs ranged from 5 percent to 10 percent in 21 countries, and exceeded 10 percent in 10 countries, including 12 percent for the United States. Of the countries assessed, Vietnam had the highest rate (20 percent), followed by Estonia (19 percent), Saudi Arabia (18 percent), and Taiwan (17 percent).

In total, some 10 million IDUs worldwide have HCV and 1.2 million have HBV.

HBV is the second most-important known cause of cancer, after tobacco. HBV causes some 600,000 deaths annually, said the World Health Organization.

However, unlike HCV, a vaccine against HBV is available. "That is why universal infant vaccination against hepatitis B is so crucial to long-term control of the virus," said Louisa Degenhardt of the Bernet Institute in Melbourne, and Paul Nelson of the University of New South Wales.

The researchers called on public health officials to increase blood-borne hepatitis prevention efforts and to lower treatment costs.

The study, "Global Epidemiology of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in People Who Inject Drugs: Results of Systematic Reviews," was published early online in The Lancet (2011;doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61097-0).

Back to other news for July 2011

Adapted from:
Agence France Presse

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Third of World's People Infected With Hepatitis: WHO
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Talk to a Physician About HIV/Hepatitis Coinfection in Our "Ask the Experts" Forums
Hepatitis & Injection Drugs

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