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College Students Unaware of Hepatitis C Risks

Behaviors such as sharing jewelry, getting tattoos not even discussed by doctors

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- About 75 percent of U.S. college students have behaviors such as sharing body jewelry and getting tattoos that put them at risk for hepatitis C, according to a survey of 610 undergraduates at a large Midwestern university.

The study also found that many of the students didn't know about the risk factors for hepatitis C. For example, 27 percent of the students didn't know that hepatitis C could be spread through intravenous drug use, while 77 percent didn't know it could be spread by intranasal cocaine use.

The researchers also found that 53 percent of the students said they had shared pierced jewelry, which is another risk factor for hepatitis C.

"We were surprised at the proportion of undergraduates who were inadvertently putting themselves at risk for hepatitis C," Dr. Thomas Shehab, of St. Joseph Mercy Health System, said in a prepared statement.

"In addition to well documented traditional risk factors, we are concerned about students who may be putting themselves at risk for this serious disease with even something as simple as sharing pierced body jewelry," Shehab said.

He and his colleagues were also alarmed that few of the students' doctors had talked to them about viral hepatitis/HIV risk factors.

"The majority of the group had been to the physician for a health care maintenance examination in the last three years, but during that visit, most had never been asked about behaviors that put them at risk for serious infection," Shehab said.

The study was presented at this week's American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting, in Las Vegas.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about hepatitis C.

SOURCE: American College of Gastroenterology, news release, Oct. 23, 2006
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