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Researcher studies, treats military with 'silent disease'

. "Sometimes they don't fully understand hepatitis C, and the patients are very anxious. They think they have HIV or something that's going to kill them overnight," she said. "We like to talk to the patient and put them at ease, and say 'Look this is the story, let's work together.'"

Having the disease doesn't end a military career. Military members who have it can still deploy, though not while they're undergoing treatment because it's so intensive. "When we have patients in treatment we've asked for deployment delays," she said. "To date they have not denied us once."

According to a 1999 Defense Department report to Congress, military personnel today are at a lower risk of hepatitis C infection because of the screening that's done before they enter the military and while they're serving. Routine, random drug screening is also believed to keep rates lower than the civilian population.

One offshoot of Sjogren's research has been discovering how military members contracted the virus. Hepatitis C is typically transmitted through IV drug use and blood transfusions that were given before 1990 because a good screening tool wasn't available prior to then. The servicemembers Sjogren treats most often report that they contracted it through blood products because they were transfused at an earlier time or because they used IV drugs before they joined the military. Her patients have also listed skin piercings or tattoos as the possible source of their infection.

"Military people (46 percent) have more tattoos than civilian population, but the link between tattoos and HCV (hepatitis C virus), although it exists theoretically, has not been proven," she said. Currently no data exist in the United States indicating that people who have had tattoos are at increased risk for hepatitis C infection; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently conducting a large study to evaluate tattooing as a potential risk, according to its
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Source:US Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs


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