Too alarmist about hepatitis C?

Ms. Biron`s "A patient`s complicated history ..." article (May 1998 RDH) is well written. Unfortunately, it mentions some questionable facts about Hepatitis C (HVC). Biron states concerning HCV: "There are an astounding 35,000 to 180,000 total infections occuring yearly in the United States; and 8,000 to 10,000 of those individuals infected with the virus will die this year."

Dear RDH:

Ms. Biron`s "A patient`s complicated history ..." article (May 1998 RDH) is well written. Unfortunately, it mentions some questionable facts about Hepatitis C (HVC). Biron states concerning HCV: "There are an astounding 35,000 to 180,000 total infections occuring yearly in the United States; and 8,000 to 10,000 of those individuals infected with the virus will die this year."

This is incorrect. Hepatitis C is a very rare disease that most commonly affects transfusion patients.

There are no known dependable statistics for occupational infections in the dental field. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published the cumulative number of hepatitis C cases for the United States in 1997 (in MMWR 46/52-53 p. 1260). In a population of 275,000,000 people, there were only 3,132 documented HCV cases, which also included Hepatitis non-A and non-B classifications. This is a far cry from the 180,000 annual cases quoted.

Two important issues must be explained. The exaggerated 180,000 cases is someone`s guess, not fact. Often, these guesses are motivated by enthusiasm, biases, or just plain greed for new research grants. Unless documented, they are meaningless and should be considered as such.

The second issue is the nature of HCV. It is fatal in about 66 percent of known cases, however, the average time it takes to contribute to your death is 23+ years. Many of the people who die from this disease also are dying from the other chronic diseases or old age as well, thus skewing the statistics.

I would recommend Ms. Biron avoid parroting (Chicken Little) guesses and political "estimations" and stick with documented science no matter what the source. I also suggest the reader be somewhat skeptical of dire predictions of disease, etc. Ask yourself, how many people do I know with HCV? This will give you some mark of reality.

Remember 10 years, everyone was screaming about getting AIDS occupationally? To date there have been no cases of dental professionals ever getting AIDS/HIV occupationally in the history of the world. Think about it.

E.J. Neiburger,

Director of the Center for Dental AIDS Research

Waukegan, Illinois

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