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"Unless we do something about [HEP-C] soon, it will kill more people than AIDS"--Everett Koop

Published: STATS UPDATED DAILY Author: (Trustees of Dartmouth College)
Posted on 11/16/1999 10:44:08 PST by Askel5

We stand at the precipice of a grave threat to our public health ...
It affects people from all walks of life,
in every state, in every country.
And unless we do something about it soon,

it will kill more people than AIDS.

C. Everett Koop
Former U.S. Surgeon General

An Important Message from Dr. Koop

Hepatitis C is a life-threatening, blood borne disease of the liver. It is caused by a virus, and is far more easily transmitted than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It is suspected that there are, at present, more than 4.5 million people in the United States that are infected with hepatitis C, and more than 200 million around the world - far more people than are infected with HIV. Hepatitis C is rapidly becoming a global epidemic, and this makes hepatitis C one of the greatest public health threats faced in this century, and perhaps one of the greatest threats to be faced in the next century.


Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver, usually producing swelling and, in many cases, permanent damage to liver tissues. Liver disease strikes at the very heart of the body's functions and processes, and can be life-threatening. You cannot live without a liver. A number of different agents can cause hepatitis, including infectious diseases, chemical poisons, drugs and alcohol. Viral hepatitis refers to a set of at least six viruses that are known to cause hepatitis, which vary in their severity and characteristics. These are hepatitis A (HAV), hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (Hepatitis C Virus), hepatitis D (HDV), hepatitis E (HEV), and hepatitis G (HGV). Hepatitis C can lead to serious, permanent liver damage, and in many cases, death.

The Hepatitis C (Hepatitis C Virus) virus was identified in 1989. Unlike the other types of viral hepatitis, hepatitis C is very difficult for the immune system to overcome. Hepatitis C is a one of a special set of viruses, called RNA viruses, which can outmanuever the human immune system. They do this by mutating rapidly, often evolving faster than the immune system can develop an effective response to them.

Infections by RNA viruses like Hepatitis C are hard to beat - and can be very dangerous.

As a result, most Hepatitis C infections (80-90%) become chronic and lead to liver disease, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver tissues) and liver failure. Hepatitis C infection is typically mild in its early stages, and it is rarely recognized until it has caused significant damage to the liver. The cycle of disease from infection to significant liver damage can take 20 years or more.

Hep C is believed to be transmitted only by blood. However, unlike many other blood borne viruses virtually any source of blood or blood products seems to be capable of carrying the virus, even if the source is indirect - like a used razor, for example. This makes hepatitis C far more transmissible than most other blood borne viruses - including HIV.

Blood transfusions account for nearly 10% of all cases of Hepatitis C. Prior to 1990, there were no tests for hepatitis C made against the blood supply, and since 1993, risk has been negligible. Anyone who received a blood transfusion prior to that time, however, is at risk for having been infected.

However, almost any direct or indirect exposure to infected blood can transmit the virus. This includes I.V. drug use and poorly sterilized medical instruments, blood spills, unbandaged cuts or injuries, and tattooing or body piercing, as well as less obvious sources of blood, such as shared razors or toothbrushes, or body secretions (such as mucous) that may contain small amounts of blood. In about 10% of all cases, no risk factors have been identified. Heterosexual and homosexual activity, particularly with multiple partners and in the absence of protective measures, can also transmit the virus. Close contact between household members has also been implicated.


A vaccine against Hepatitis C may not be available for many years to come. Without prompt intervention to care for infected populations and prevent the spread of disease, the death rate from hep C will surpass that from AIDS by the year 2000 - and it can only get worse.

This site will offer comprehensive information concerning hepatitis C, including tutorials on viruses, the liver, and the epidemiology of hep C, and interactive tests and quizzes. It will also feature stories of patients, physicians, and researchers that are fighting this disease, and offer a number of additional videos, games, and children's stories.