The World Health
Organization states 170,000,000 people are infected with HCV.
That means 3% of the world's population is at risk for HCV
related problems such as cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma
(liver cancer), and liver failure. The highest rate is in Africa
where 13% of the population is infected. The Americas have about
a 1.7% incident rate. US Viet-Nam era veterans (combat and
non-combat) have a 7% incident rate; and soldiers who went
through Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, have a higher incident rate
Hepatitis is a viral disease that
affects the liver. There are many types of hepatitis and experts
believe more will be discovered in the future. What was once
known as non-A, non-B hepatitis is now divided into several
categories of Hepatitis C, D, E, and G.
This section will give a very brief overview of the similarities
and differences among the various hepatitis virus now known.
Hepatitis A (HAV) is a RNA virus;
it was previously called infectious hepatitis. It is transmitted
by person-to-person contact or ingestion of contaminated food or
water. It is almost never through blood products. A preventative
vaccine consisting of two gamma globulin injections is
There is no specific treatment for HAV; however, full recovery
is common. HAV does not usually result in chronic hepatitis
except in the case of newborns. Ninety percent of newborns who
contact HAV remain chronic. A person who has HAV develops a
Liver transplant is indicated only in very rare cases
Hepatitis B (HBV) is a DNA virus;
it was previously called serum hepatitis. It is transmitted
through blood or blood products. It can also be transmitted by
semen or vaginal fluid and is the only sexually transmitted
disease preventable by vaccine. It is more
contagious than HCV and 100 times more infectious than HIV.
A larger percentage of Canadians get this infection through tattoos
than through intraveneous drug usage. A preventative vaccine
consisting of three gamma globulin injections is available.
Many people can have HBV and not know it. HBV only becomes
chronic in approximately 5%
of victims. Approximately 100,000 Canadians suffer with chronic
HBV. Current treatment consists of Interferon injections three
times a week for four months. A new drug, Lamivudine, is
currently being tested. Currently liver transplants are not an
Hepatitis C is a single strand
RNA virus. Prior to 1990, it was called non-A non-B hepatitis,
meaning that it was not caused by the hepatitis A or hepatitis B
virus; however diagnostic tests had not yet been developed to
pinpoint the cause. After 1990, more advanced diagnostic tests
became available making it possible to identify the HCV virus.
It is a blood-borne pathogen that is transmitted through blood
or blood products. There is currently NO vaccine available to
prevent this disease.
HCV has a greater ability to mutate
than HBV; therefore, HCV is more difficult for the body to
fight. The large majority of infected persons, approximately
85%, will remain contagious for the rest of their life. More
information is available in the section entitled, The Disease.
Hepatitis D (HDV) is a defective
RNA virus which cannot survive on its own. This blood-borne
pathogen only infects liver cells which are co-infected with
Hepatitis B virus. There is no vaccine against this strain of
hepatitis. Neither interferon nor transplantation is effective
in the fight against hepatitis D.
On the bright side, if you are immune to HBV, you will also be immune
Hepatitis E (HEV) is similar to
HAV and is normally transmitted by fecal contaminated water.
There is no vaccine to prevent this disease. It does not cause
chronic hepatitis. HEV poses a greater risk to pregnant women
causing a 20%