Hepatitis rates in Egypt at ‘epidemic’ level

More than half a million new cases occur each year in the country, new data shows.
Hepatitis rates in Egypt at ‘epidemic’ level
TIMEBOMB: A total of 537,000 new HCV cases are reported in the Arab state annually, meaning nearly seven in 1,000 Egyptians acquire the infection each year.(Getty Images)
By Joanne Bladd
Mon 09 Aug 2010 02:43 PM

Egypt has the highest rate of new hepatitis C (HCV) infections ever recorded in the world, with more than half a million new cases occurring each year, new data has found.

A paper published on Monday in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ found erratic medical hygiene is driving soaring infection rates across the Arab world’s most populous country, with one in every ten Egyptians now a carrier of HCV.

According to the study, Egypt’s 77 million-strong population now houses a ticking timebomb of at least 4.5 million people that are infectious to others.

“The study opened our eyes to a disease burden similar in scale and challenge to the HIV problem in sub-Saharan Africa; millions of cases of an infection for which there is no vaccine, no effective treatment, and where case management is so expensive that it is beyond the reach of most patients,” said Dr Laith Abu-Raddad, co-author of the study and assistant professor of public health Weill Cornell Medical College, Qatar.

A total of 537,000 new HCV cases are reported in the Arab state annually, meaning nearly seven in 1,000 Egyptians acquire the infection each year.

The record figures suggest “intense ongoing transmission” said the lead author on the study, Dr F DeWolfe Miller, driven by scrappy medical and dental hygiene practices. 

“This is the highest level of HCV transmission ever recorded at a national level for a blood-borne infectious disease transmitted parenterally, that is, by use of non-sterile medical instruments,” said Millar, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hawaii.

Hepatitis C affects the liver and is caught through blood-to-blood contact. The disease is known to be transmitted through poor medical hygiene, intravenous drug use, body piercing, tattooing or even sharing an infected person's razor or toothbrush.

Many people infected with the virus have no symptoms, and are only diagnosed when liver damage appears many years later.

The findings reveal an urgent need for tighter public health measures, aimed at slashing the transmission rate in hospitals and clinics.

“There is only one way to deal with the HCV challenge in this country: HCV prevention,” said Dr Miller. “Failure to act could swamp the public health system over the coming decades with millions of cases of HCV disease complications with an economic and social cost that this nation does not have the means to confront.”

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