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Investigators suspect cause is blood-borne

(China Daily)

13:18, December 14, 2011

BEIJING - Blood-borne transmission, such as unsafe intravenous injections and infusions of unscreened blood, has been the major cause of hepatitis C outbreaks in high-risk areas in China in recent years, experts said.

Zhang Hongfei, chief doctor at the infectious-disease department at the People's Liberation Army No 302 Hospital, said exposure through sex, childbirth, cosmetic surgery, intravenous drug use, transplantation and invasive medical procedures, such as gastroscopy, can also be potential sources of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections.

In the end of 2009, at least 64 people were infected with HCV after receiving blood transfusions in Pingtang county hospital in Guizhou province. The source was traced to the infected blood of the donor Li Cailing, 43, of Jiangsu province, who repeatedly donated up to 20,000 ml of blood to the hospital to earn money from October 1998 to June 2002.

In November 2009, 19 renal patients on dialysis treatment were found to have contracted hepatitis C in Huoshan county, Anhui province. The county hospital did not have separate dialysis rooms for infected patients and increased the likelihood of cross-infections with inadequate disinfecting procedures.

Zhuang Hui, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said HCV is nicknamed a "silent killer", staying in the liver in about 85 percent of people infected, yet bringing few symptoms until it progresses to chronic infection, causing scarring of the liver and cirrhosis.

A national survey in 2006 placed the hepatitis C infection rate in China at 0.43 percent, affecting 6 million people. The infection rate had dropped from 3.2 percent in 1992, Zhuang said.

There is currently no vaccine that protects against HCV, but cases of the virus can be cured with treatment, Zhuang added.

According to the handbook for hepatitis C treatment issued by the Chinese Society of Hepatology in 2004, there were about 170 million people infected worldwide and 35,000 new cases each year.

People at high risk of exposure to HCV should take precautions and undergo antibody tests. Those at high risk are people who have undergone blood transfusion, tooth extraction, surgery, unprotected sex, who share toothbrushes or razors, have HIV/AIDS virus or sexually transmitted diseases, and health workers with frequent blood contact.

Testing positive for HCV antibody does not conclusively show the presence of hepatitis C. Additional testing is needed using molecular nucleic acid tests.

Acute HCV infection, which occurs within six months after viral exposure, may be spontaneously cleared out of the sufferer's body, particularly among young people.

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