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The Hepatitis C Threat

Health experts say ignorance can kill

Hepatitis C is a potentially deadly disease that often goes untreated for too long because it has few initial symptoms. And there's a stigma attached to some of the behaviors that can trigger it -- particularly illegal drug use.

Health officials are warning those at risk that ignorance in this case can kill.

But there's encouraging news. New therapies may make the disease more manageable, according to an article from the Providence Journal.

The tricky part for health-care providers is convincing those at risk that they should be tested and treated. If left untreated, the disease can cause liver failure. Initially, however, it can produce no symptoms, or just some fatigue.

The current treatment is grueling and not always successful. It involves three injections a week of the drug interferon. Some patients also receive an oral medication called ribavirin. This can cause extreme fatigue, pain, loss of appetite, irritability, depression and severe flu-like symptoms, the article says.

But doctors are investigating a new kind of interferon -- called pegylated interferon -- that might have to be administered only once a week.

Hepatitis C is often transmitted by sharing needles. Some people get it through blood transfusions. For more information, you can read this fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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