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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

    

Hepatitis C may be transmitted via toothbrushes

Last Updated: 2002-05-22 15:30:30 -0400 (Reuters Health)

By Melissa Schorr

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Health) - The viral infection hepatitis C could possibly be transmitted by common household items such as toothbrushes, researchers warned here at Digestive Disease Week, an annual meeting of gastroenterologists.

"This study strengthens the evidence to advise patients with hepatitis C to not share possibly infected household objects," said study co-author Dr. Claus Hellerbrand of the department of internal medicine at the University of Regensburg in Germany.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis and possibly liver cancer. It currently affects around 1% of the US population and can be spread via contaminated blood products or by injection drug use. As many as 10% to 40% of patients diagnosed with hepatitis C had no obvious risk factor or known mechanism for contracting the disease, according to

    

Hellerbrand.

Researchers have theorized these patients may have caught the virus in an unconventional manner, such as via tattooing, piercing or sharing a razor with an infected person. Patients with hepatitis C are currently warned against sharing communal household items that come in contact with blood, such as razors and toothbrushes, with other family members.

In a new study, the researchers examined 30 patients infected with hepatitis C to see whether they contaminated their toothbrushes with the virus. The doctors collected saliva samples from infected patients both before and after they brushed their teeth. After brushing, the toothbrush was rinsed in salt water and inspected for presence of hepatitis C genetic material.

Thirty percent of the infected patients tested positive for traces of the virus in their saliva before brushing their teeth, while 38% of the infected patients tested positive in their saliva after brushing. Forty percent of the rinsing water of the toothbrushes tested positive for the virus, the investigators found.

The patients whose toothbrush water tested positive were not significantly different in their oral hygiene or disease severity than patients whose rinsing water was negative.

    

Hellerbrand said it was unknown whether these traces of genetic material on the toothbrush could infect another individual, but that it was not impossible. "We can't prove it's alive and could infect another, and we can't exclude that," he noted. "It's probably not easy to be transmitted in this way."

The researchers conclude that publicly used objects such as barbershop razors, which may be vulnerable to infection, should be regulated by health officials.