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Newsweek Cover: 'Hepatitis C': Hepatitis C May Kill More People Than AIDS By the End of the Decade:

April 14, 2002
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.

NEWSWEEK

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]



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