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U.S. News

Health Danger of Parties Past

September 23, 2010

Some two-thirds of hepatitis C diagnoses are in middle-aged people, who may have become infected decades ago during their risk-taking younger days. Many are still unaware they have the virus, which can be asymptomatic for decades while damaging the liver.

"Any blood-to-blood transmission route can spread [hepatitis C], no matter how microscopic," said Melissa Palmer, medical director at New York University's Hepatology Associates in Plainview, N.Y. "People may have done something once and forgotten about it, like share a $1 or a $100 bill to snort cocaine. The blood vessels in the nose are very weak and could bleed a little, and then the blood gets passed to the next person."

"Now they're successful business people, lawyers, doctors, school principals, and they don't know they're carrying this," said Joseph Galati, medical director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at Houston's Methodist Hospital.

Hepatitis C virus was identified in 1989. Before widespread testing began in 1992, HCV was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Today, most acute infections are linked with intravenous drug use. Infants born to a mother with HCV can become infected. Less common transmission routes include borrowing a toothbrush or razor, and sex with an infected person. Transmission is also possible through poor infection-control practices during tattooing and body piercing.

About 15 percent of infections go away on their own. Some 85 percent become chronic, inflaming the liver for years, though this may not be apparent unless the inflammation becomes severe. Of chronic patients, about 20 percent develop cirrhosis, among whom 20 percent develop liver cancer. In the United States, HCV is the leading reason for liver transplants. A year-long course of chemotherapy is used to treat HCV, but this is successful in only about 50 percent of patients.

Back to other news for September 2010

Adapted from:
Wall Street Journal
09.20.2010; Melinda Beck

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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
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More on Hepatitis C

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