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Some 4.1 Million Americans Infected with Hepatitis C

History of injection drug use strongest risk factor

TUESDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- The prevalence of antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (anti-HCV) in the United States was 1.6 percent in 1999-2002, the equivalent of an estimated 4.1 million Americans, according to a study in the May 16 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Gregory L. Armstrong, M.D., of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues studied 15,079 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2002. Participants were tested for anti-HCV and HCV RNA, and their serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels were also measured. Those aged 20 to 59 years provided histories on drug use and sexual practices.

Between 3.4 million and 4.9 million people in the United States, or about 1.6 percent, are estimated to be anti-HCV positive, while 3.2 million people are estimated to have chronic HCV infection. Among anti-HCV-positive participants aged 20 to 59, 48.4 percent reported a history of injection drug use, though 83.3 percent of them had not used drugs for at least 12 months before the survey. Other significant risk factors included 20 or more lifetime sex partners, as well as having had a blood transfusion prior to 1992.

"Abnormal serum ALT level, any history of injection drug use and history of blood transfusion before 1992 -- identified 85.1 percent of HCV RNA-positive participants between 20 and 49 years of age," the authors write.

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