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Reuters Health Information (2005-09-05): Hepatitis C threatens new generation of Egyptians

Public Health

Hepatitis C threatens new generation of Egyptians

Last Updated: 2005-09-05 13:43:03 -0400 (Reuters Health)

CAIRO, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Egyptian children face a high risk of contracting hepatitis C from their parents, probably through the use of dirty needles in a country with one of the world's highest infection rates, a medical journal said.

About 14 to 18 percent of Egyptians carry the Hepatitis C (HCV) virus. The disease exploded in Egypt between 1960 and 1970, when unsterilised needles were used during a government campaign to treat the water-borne disease bilharzia.

Now the disease threatens the next generation of Egyptians, according to a study that found that parents could be passing HCV to their children.

"The strong relationship between the risk of infection in a child to the presence of (HCV) in their parents suggests transmission of HCV is occurring between family members," Dr. G. Thomas Strickland of the Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, said in the study, published in September's issue of the journal Hepatology.

Conducted in rural areas where bilharzia is rife, the study did not find the exact routes of transmission, but said HCV could have been passed on through contact with blood or saliva. In a household environment, HCV can spread by sharing razors or toothbrushes, or by unprotected sex.

But it said the practice within rural Egyptian families of sharing needles was the most probable method of transmission.

"The most common exposures (to HCV) among our subjects were frequent injections... Usually for health purposes and often given at home by 'injectionists' who sometimes reuse their own needles and syringes or use household-provided syringes and needles in more than one person," Dr. Strickland said.

Out of the 6,734 HCV-free Egyptians who took part in the 19-month study, 67 percent of those who went on to contract HCV were under the age of 20, and of those 22 youths, the infection rate was greatest for those under the age of 10.

In his report, Dr. Strickland said that although it was difficult to draw statistical significance from the relatively small number of people who contracted HCV, further studies should be conducted into transmission within families.

"Learning the mechanisms by which HCV transmission is occurring between family members so that preventative measures can be initiated, particularly in children having HCV-infected parents, is important," he said.

Hepatology 2005.

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