- Hepatitis C Still a Hidden Epidemic
October 27, 2000
Despite the fanfare of several recent public education campaigns,
general awareness of hepatitis C virus (HCV) is poor compared
with awareness of AIDS and HIV, according to the results of a
study presented at the 65th Annual Scientific Meeting of the
American College of Gastroenterology (ACG).
The investigators, from Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center,
Bronx, New York, surveyed more than 600 individuals. Of
those, almost half (290, including 92 physicians) were employees
of the hospital. The 2-part survey instrument collected
demographic data and responses to 10 HCV-related and 10
HIV-related questions. The researchers found that the research
participants' awareness of HCV was significantly lower than that
of HIV (49% compared with 70%), and physician counseling
significantly increased HCV awareness but produced no change
in HIV awareness.
In addition, more than two-thirds (68%) and three-quarters
(75%) of participants said they would volunteer their HIV and
HCV status, respectively, to a healthcare worker. An even
higher percentage (91% and 92% for HIV and HCV,
respectively) would share that information with a partner at risk.
The results of the survey showed a general lack of awareness
about hepatitis C, despite the recent educational programs. The
study shows that people do not appear to recognize the rapidly
rising prevalence of HCV as the sign of a major epidemic.
However, the survey did indicate that physician counseling
increased HCV awareness; therefore, physicians should place an
emphasis on counseling their patients.
Overall, it appears that the medical community needs to remain
vigilant and continue this serious educational effort with the aim
of increasing awareness. Each year, between 28,000 and
180,000 Americans are infected with HCV. The number of
Americans currently infected is 3.9 million, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In
comparison, an average of 31,600 people have developed
full-blown AIDS each year since 1981, and the CDC estimates
that approximately 900,000 people in the United States are
Infection with HCV can last a lifetime and can progress to liver
failure, liver cancer, and death. HCV is the primary cause of liver
transplant in the United States. Risk factors for the disease are
the use of injection or snorted drugs, blood transfusions
performed before 1992 (prior to identification and screening of
the virus), and unprotected sex with multiple partners. There is
no fully successful treatment.