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Tuesday, 10 November, 1998, 12:51 GMT
Liver transplants set to soar
Chronic hepatitis C eventually requires surgical intervention
Demand for liver transplants in the US is set to rise dramatically over the next 10 years due to poor treatment of Hepatitis C.

Researchers at Florida University said that based on the current number of infections, demand for transplants in the US could rise five-fold by 2008.

They presented their findings at a meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases on Monday.

Hepatitis C, a blood-borne viral disease, is estimated to affect about 170 million people worldwide, and about five million in Europe.

In about a third of all cases, the disease leads to a chronic infection that can cause fatal liver disease.

Although incidence of the disease is thought to be declining, current treatments of the chronic disease are only successful in 15% to 20% of patients.

Liver damage can become so severe that the only option is a transplant.

The study estimated a 223% increase in liver-related deaths and a 528% increase in the demand for liver transplants in the US in the next 10 years.

Massive increase

The research was headed by Dr Gary Davis, a researcher at Florida University.

He said: "The prevalence of (the disease) will remain high for many years, and cases with major complications of chronic hepatitis C will increase dramatically unless effective treatment can be developed, which interrupts the natural history of the infection."

The disease can be treated with expensive drug therapies and the incidence of new infections appears to be declining.

However, the researchers said it appears that only a small number of cases are being treated.

The rise in cases is thought to be due to intravenous drug use and blood transfusions given before blood banks began screening for the virus in the early 1990s.

Many people carry the disease for many years with few symptoms.

In the UK

A recent study by the British Liver Trust found that most hepatitis C sufferers in the UK were unhappy with their treatment and the amount of knowledge GPs had of the disease.

Some haemophiliacs have been seeking compensation from the government after they contracted the disease from contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s.

The most common treatment used to combat chronic cases of the disease is a drug called interferon alpha-2b, which is given to patients for a 48-week period.

However, this leads to a sustained improvement in only 15% to 20% of patients.

A study published last month in The Lancet medical journal said interferon in combination with a drug called ribavirin could be a breakthrough in treating chronic cases of the disease.

See also:

20 May 98 | Latest News
Kidney patients in Hepatitis B scare
25 Sep 98 | Health
Transplants for the future
01 Nov 98 | Health
Hepatitis C care 'fails patients'
31 Oct 98 | Health
Better treatment for Hepatitis C
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