Vietnam Veterans Show High Rates of Hepatitis C Infection
Many American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war may have unknowingly contracted hepatitis C through blood tranfusions and shared razors and needles, the Bergen Record reports. An outpatient survey conducted at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in San Francisco found that 33% of Vietnam veterans ages 41 to 50 were infected with hepatitis C, as were 27% of veterans ages 51 to 60. A similar survey conducted at a VA medical center in Washington, D.C., found that 20% of veteran patients had hepatitis C antibodies. Wounded soldiers, as well as the surgeons, nurses and medics who treated them, were especially at risk for infection. U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) added that hepatitis C infection is highest among veterans in New Jersey and New York, and recommended a "uniform, national standard" for testing and treating veterans with hepatitis C. However, many veterans are unaware that they may have contracted the virus. Robert Corsa, a veterans advocate in Passaic County, N.J., said, "We have to make veterans aware of this. It lays dormant in the body up to 30 years." To help make veterans more aware of the disease, the VA in 1999 announced a "combat plan" for hepatitis C research and treatment. The plan includes forming two hepatitis C centers at VA medical centers in Miami and San Francisco and developing a national hepatitis registry for information on "all types of hepatitis." The department is also creating educational programs for VA patients and their families and instructing clinicians and counselors to provide information about the disease to patients. Hepatitis C programs receive $340 million from the department's $46.4 billion budget (Bautista, Bergen Record, 9/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.