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Hepatitis C Virus Levels Higher in Certain Injection Drug Users

FRIDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- Among injection-drug users in the United States infected with hepatitis C, virus levels are highest among blacks, males and those who are also infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, a new study finds.

A 2010 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 3.9 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C infection, which is a leading cause of liver cancer, end-stage liver disease and liver transplantation.

The study was published in the July issue of the journal Hepatology.

Previous research indicates that one-third of injection-drug users aged 18 to 30 -- and up to 90 percent of older users -- are infected with the hepatitis C virus. With such high rates, it's important to learn more about the characteristics of infection in this group of people, Dr. Thomas O'Brien, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, said in a journal news release.

O'Brien also noted that hepatitis C virus levels predict treatment response in people with chronic hepatitis C.

O'Brien and colleagues looked at approximately 1,700 black, Hispanic and white injection-drug users in San Francisco. Nearly 75 percent of the participants were men. Their average age was 46 and the average age at which they first used injection drugs was 18.

"We know that the level of [hepatitis C virus] is an important predictor of treatment response and that these levels seem to be influenced by a number of demographic, clinical, viral and human genetic factors," O'Brien concluded.

Hepatitis C virus causes long-term infection in up to 85 percent of people with the virus, according to the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about hepatitis C.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Hepatology, news release, July 10, 2012

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