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Reuters Health Information (2003-06-25): Hepatitis C infects about 500,000 people in Germany


Hepatitis C infects about 500,000 people in Germany

Last Updated: 2003-06-25 14:51:08 -0400 (Reuters Health)

VIENNA (Reuters Health) - Hepatitis C infection is estimated to affect between 400,000 and 500,000 people in Germany, according to a report by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a Berlin-based government institute responsible for the control of infectious diseases.

Dr. Klaus Stark, the head of the gastrointestinal diseases unit at the RKI, told Reuters Health on Wednesday that 70% to 80% of the people infected with hepatitis C go on to develop a chronic infection, making hepatitis C a significant public health problem.

Also, 30% of those with chronic infections go on to develop liver cirrhosis within 20-30 years. "Chronic hepatitis C infection is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in Germany and also one of the most frequent reasons why people need liver transplants," said Dr. Stark.

The RKI study shows that the main risk group for hepatitis C is intravenous drug users who share syringes and equipment. "Seventy to eighty percent of all the intravenous drug users in Berlin are infected with the hepatitis C virus," Dr. Stark commented.

Making sterile syringes available would help reduce the risk of the infection being transmitted between drug users, he added.

Dr. Stark stressed that it was important to raise the general public's awareness about hepatitis C because the infection can now be treated effectively by combination therapy using pegylated interferon and ribavirin.

"Depending on the genotype we can cure 50% to 75 % of all cases of hepatitis C with the combination treatment. Genotype I is less easy to treat, though, than genotypes II and III," Dr. Stark said.

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