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Hepatitis C may spread heterosexually.

Hepatitis C may spread heterosexually

Health officials have long recognized that sexual contact, especially between homosexual men, can spread hepatitis B. Now, for the first time, a study suggests heterosexual intercourse transmits hepatitis C.

Scientists last year identified hepatitis C -- until then known only as non-A, non-B hepatitis -- as a specific disease by isolating the virus responsible (SN: 5/14/88, p. 308).

The new study, conducted by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and described in the Sept. 1 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, also reinforces earlier evidence that heterosexual intercourse serves as a major transmission route of hepatitis B. Study director Miriam J. Alter says this has influenced the Public Health Service to develop a recommendation, scheduled for release later this year, that heterosexuals get vaccinated for hepatitis B if they have had more than one partner in the past six months. No vaccine exists for hepatitis C.

The CDC researchers compared matched controls with 218 hepatitis B patients and 140 patients (diagnosed with non-A, non-B hepatitis. (At that time there was no diagnostic test for hepatitis C.) They found 14 percent of the hepatitis B patients had multiple heterosexual partners in the past six months. In the group with hepatitis C, the researchers traced infection to intravenous drug abuse in 34 percent of the cases and to blood transfusions in 13 percent. In an additional 11 percent, infection apparently arose from hetero-sexual or household contact with a hepatitis carrier or from heterosexual contact with multiple partners of undetermined disease status.

No hepatitis C patient reported homosexual activity. Previous studies of this disease have consistently failed to uncover evidence of homosexual spread--a fact that puzzles researchers. The apparent lack of homosexual transmission seems to contradict the idea that hepatitis C spreads sexually, comments NIH researcher Jay H. Hoofnagle.
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Author:Loupe, D.E.
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 2, 1989
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