Spread of hepatitis C pinpointed
Scientists say they’ve, for the primary time, worked out the pattern of spread of hepatitis C, showing early diagnosis is essential to preventing epidemics.
A study in injecting drug users in Greece indicated that every infected person spread the disease to twenty others – 10 of those within the first two years.
The researchers said their results would help tackle the disease’s spread.
Globally as much as 180 million people live with the virus, most are unaware that they’ve it.
Those infected don’t develop symptoms for as much as two decades and spread it to others without realising.
Study leader Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis, from Oxford University, said when people were infected with something along with flu it was really easy to see where it had come from, because people knew they were infected within days.
But with hepatitis C, no-one have been ready to pin down how the virus spreads, because cases occur months or years apart.
To overcome this problem, the researchers checked out four hepatitis C epidemics in Greece, using data from 943 patients collected between 1995 and 2000.
But to produce more detail on the way it spreads, in addition they included genetic information at the virus taken from 100 samples.
Plugging the main points right into a computer model, they calculated that injecting drug users were “super-spreaders”, each transmitting the virus to twenty people.
Most importantly they found that the majority of the transmissions occurred inside the first couple of years, they report in PLoS Computational Biology.
The researchers said that folks were more infectious at inside the early days of catching hepatitis C because they’d higher levels of virus.
The evidence they’ve produced suggests programmes targeting the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C in high-risk groups as early as possible would prevent many new infections and associated health care costs a few years down the road.
About 20% of these infected will develop cancer or liver scarring after two decades of infection, at which point the sole treatment is liver transplantation, which costs about £100,000 ($160,000).
Dr Magiorkinis, who did the work in collaboration with the University of Athens and Imperial College London, said the model had helped build a “solid argument” to enhance early diagnosis and antiviral treatment in drug users.
“Figuring out what number of people usually are infected by each super-spreader of Hepatitis C, in addition how soon they are going to be infected, was a puzzle for over two decades,” he said.
“Our research has resolved this issue and paves the style for a modelling study to teach what sort of public health interventions could really make a difference.”
He added the approach would be useful in other infections equivalent to HIV.