Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
Hepatitis C Epidemic in Egypt Result of Improperly Sterilized Needles Used in Government Bilharzia Treatment Campaign
Salon.com on Monday profiled the hepatitis C epidemic in Egypt, which public health experts believe was unintentionally spread through the use of improperly sterilized needles during a government campaign to treat an outbreak of bilharzia, a waterborne disease that can cause bladder cancer and death. The anti-bilharzia campaign was conducted starting in the 1920s and ramped up in the 1960s, years before the hepatitis C virus was identified in 1989. Hepatitis C, which is three to four times as prevalent as HIV worldwide, has not received much attention as a major public health issue, and the World Health Organization predicts that its prevalence will continue to climb until between 2015 and 2035. In Egypt, an estimated 12% to 15% of the population carries the virus, which is a "viral time bomb," since most people do not realize that they are infected, according to Salon.com. HCV leads to serious complications such as cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease in 20% of patients, while between 20% and 50% of patients seem to be able to nearly rid themselves of the virus. In a predicament similar to that of HIV, treatment for hepatitis C is prohibitively expensive in Egypt -- $20,000 for an antiviral regimen and hundreds of thousands of dollars for liver transplants -- and is hindered by an unwillingness to get tested until the late stages of the disease and cultural taboos encouraging fatalism about contracting the virus, Salon.com reports (MacKeen, Salon.com, 6/2).
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