Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
Newsweek Cover Story Examines Spread of Hepatitis C in the United States
Newsweek's April 22 cover story examines the hepatitis C epidemic in the United States. HCV, which can cause liver damage, is four times as widespread as HIV, infecting three million to four million Americans, most of whom are unaware that they have the virus. HCV was not discovered until 1988, after it had "spread silently for decades," and the impact of the virus is "growing daily, as more and more Americans receive postcards from their past, announcing that their lives are in danger," Newsweek reports. About one in five people with HCV develop cirrhosis, often requiring liver transplants, and most infected people experience chronic liver inflammation. About 10,000 Americans a year die of HCV-related liver damage, and experts predict that the annual tally could reach 30,000 by 2010 -- twice the annual number of deaths from AIDS-related complications. However, the virus is not always fatal -- some people's immune systems are able to fight it off on their own, some people remain infected but only experience fatigue and mild depression and others are cured by using treatment with several different variations of
interferon and ribavirin. HIV and HCV often exist as
co-infections, with at least a third of Americans with HIV infected with HCV as well. The high rate of co-infection is particularly worrisome because one virus can often "exacerbate the other" (Cowley, Newsweek, 4/22).
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