Hepatitis C

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Panel to Probe Why One Million
Exposed to Hepatitis C

Source: CNN Interactive, March 5, 1998

A Congressional panel will ask health officials Thursday why an estimated one million Americans were never told they were given Hepatitis C-infected blood.

The CDC [Center for Disease Control] says, as a result, 300,000 were infected. Hepatitis C infects the liver, causing fatigue, abdominal pain, cirrhosis, and even death. About four million Americans have Hepatitis C. It’s usually spread through transfusions, IV drug use, and organ transplants. The FDA didn’t develop a test to screen for the disease until 1990.

Silent epidemic


House panel to conduct hearing on exposure to tainted blood

Source: CNN Interactive, March 5, 1998

In This Story:

WASHINGTON (CNN) Surgeon General David Satcher will be one of the witnesses at a congressional hearing on Thursday that will explore why U.S. citizens had not been notified that they received blood contaminated with hepatitis C.

The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's human resources subcommittee will conduct the hearing.

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Liver Foundation are scheduled to testify.

The hearing will focus on the estimated 1 million Americans who received blood products contaminated with hepatitis C before 1990, when a test was developed to screen for the disease.

HHS missed an opportunity, critics say

An estimated 300,000 Americans are infected with hepatitis C as a result of these exposures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The purpose of the hearing is to review the federal response to this problem," said U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican who chairs the subcommittee.

He said the government has failed to notify those exposed by the blood, although the Food and Drug Administration has considered it on seven different occasions. "We should have taken action three years ago to notify people that they may, in fact, have contracted hepatitis C."

Shays and other critics of the Department of Health and Human Services are concerned that an opportunity had been missed several years ago to notify people with hepatitis C because it was thought that the disease was restricted to risk groups like drug users.

HHS Secretary Donna Shalala promised to make the notification a high priority. She wrote one health expert as recently as January that it is her intent to reach as many at-risk people possible.

Called the silent epidemic

Hepatitis C is called a silent epidemic because many patients don't develop symptoms for decades. Many people who test positive for hepatitis C have no symptoms at all. They often find out when they are notified after a blood donation.

"We need to protect the safety of the blood supply. We did a pathetic job previous to 1992 and our committee had hearings to determine why so many people had contracted HIV/AIDS. We learned that many had also contracted hepatitis C. The difference is they don't know it," Shays said.

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. Some people who contract the disease could develop cirrhosis and require a liver transplant.

Symptoms include extreme fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal pain.

Treatment is with the drug interferon, but it is successful less than 20 percent of the time, according to researchers. A vaccine is more than 10 years away.

More than 4 million people in the United States may be infected with hepatitis C.

Correspondents Dr. Steve Salvatore and Jonathan Aiken contributed to this report.

Related stories:

Related sites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Liver Foundation
Department of Veterans Affairs
Hep-C Alert
The Hepatitis Foundation International
HepNet - The Hepatitis Information Network
Hepatitis C InfoCenter

Bibliography: Source materials used to develop the Natural Health information on this site.


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