China / Society

Hepatitis C testing to begin in pilot areas

By Shan Juan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-10-22 07:48

The public health department is set to conduct screening programs to curb the spread of hepatitis C in China.

High-risk populations to be screened first in pilot areas include men who have sex with men, injection drug users and dialysis patients, a senior liver disease specialist said.

Wei Lai, president of the Chinese Society of Liver Diseases of the Chinese Medical Association, made the remarks at the 2014 Hepatitis C Prevention and Treatment Forum held by the Chinese Association of STD and AIDS Prevention and Control on Tuesday.

Currently, fewer than half of the sufferers in the country are detected, and only 2 percent of those diagnosed with hepatitis C have sought treatment, according to Wei.

Last year, more than 200,000 cases were detected, nearly a 200 percent increase since 2004, he said.

Other key populations of the screening include people who had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, and individuals whose mother tested positive for the hepatitis C virus, he said, citing official standards for screening and management set by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Wang Xiaochun, hepatitis C control chief of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, welcomed the initiative and urged nationwide epidemiology investigations into the epidemic.

"That helps us get a more recent and accurate understanding of the spread of hepatitis C in the country," he said.

The national prevalence of hepatitis C stands at 0.43 percent of the population, an estimate based on investigations conducted in 2006, according to Wang.

But more experts, including Wei, referred to an estimated prevalence of 2.2 percent.

Some regional surveys showed more than 5 percent of long-time dialysis patients tested positive.

The longer they are on dialysis, the more likely they are to get hepatitis C, he said.

Also, those who receive dialysis at more than one medical center are more likely to contract the virus, he added, citing previous studies.

Hepatitis C is an infection affecting the liver, and 80 percent of those infected develop a chronic infection, medical experts said. With timely detection and treatment, 90 percent of the infections could be cured.

A majority of sufferers develop minimal or no symptoms at first. But chronic infection can lead to cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, which might lead to liver failure or cancer.

Given widely existing risk factors such as unprotected sex, Wei Lai suggested people who received medical or dental treatment at substandard medical facilities, or had tattoos or body piercings, get regular screening as well.

Worldwide, 130 million people are suffering with hepatitis C, with 70 million in Asia, according to the WHO. Each year, about 350,000 people die from hepatitis C related liver diseases across the world.

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