NEW YORK -- Two decades of mass death have burned
the letters HIV deep into our psyches, but few Americans have even heard of
the liver-damaging HCV -- the hepatitis C virus. Doctors says the virus now
kills 10,000 Americans each year, and the annual toll could reach 30,000 by
the end of the decade. That's twice the number killed each year by AIDS,
Newsweek reports in the April 22 issue (on newsstands Monday, April 15).
The virus is now four times as widespread as HIV -- and few of the
nation's three million to four million carriers have any idea they're
infected, reports Senior Editor Geoffrey Cowley. Scientists only identified
HCV in 1988, and by the time they developed tests that could spot the
pathogen, it had been spreading silently for decades. As a result, says Alan
Brownstein of the American Liver Foundation, "Hepatitis C mirrors America. It
affects bus drivers, construction workers, even soccer moms."
It's no longer spreading in all those groups, thanks to improved blood
screening in the past decade. But because the infection progresses so slowly,
many people infected years ago are just now discovering that their lives are
in danger. But hepatitis C is by no means a death sentence, Cowley reports.
Some 15 percent of people infected mount a strong enough immune response to
throw off the virus completely. And though HCV stays active in most infected
people, causing chronic liver inflammation, many suffer nothing worse than
fatigue and mild depression.
However, one patient in five eventually develops cirrhosis -- which can
lead to liver failure. As a result, the need for transplants is rising, and
10,000 Americans are dying each year. And the medicines used to treat
hepatitis C are costly and may be ineffective.
Unlike the hepatitis A and B viruses, the C virus can't spread unless a
carrier's blood enters another person's veins. Much like the AIDS virus,
hepatitis C can be transmitted through reusable syringes and blood
transfusions. But because HCV goes unnoticed for such long periods, the
source of a person's infection is often hard to know. Doctors have been
trying unsuccessfully to determine whether inoculation programs spread the
virus among soldiers during the Vietnam era and if tattoo needles are
spreading the virus today.
The April 22 Newsweek cover story examines the growing threat of
Hepatitis C, a virus that will kill more people than AIDS by the end
of the decade. Also, the battle in Jenin and a Newsweek blueprint
for lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Plus: Married
Episcopal priests who've converted to Catholicism; the Democratic
convention; and Bloomberg's first 100-days in office. Also Hollywood
franchises, and Arab American comics hit the stage. (PRNewsFoto)[AS]