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Guangdong Launches Low-cost Hepatitis C Tests

Residents in south China's Guangdong Province now have access to low-cost tests for the hepatitis C virus at about 100 hospitals with the beginning of a program on hepatitis C control Tuesday.

The goal of the program, which will run through December 18, is to discover the estimated 1 million hepatitis C patients in the province and provide them with timely treatment, said Hou Jinlin, an expert on infectious diseases and one of the major initiators of the program.

In most hospitals, the initial check-up costs 20 yuan, and those with a positive test will be diagnosed free of charge. The hospitals will also offer collective treatment to the diagnosed patients.

The hepatitis C virus, discovered in 1989, may cause viral hepatitis like the hepatitis B virus, but it is much harder to detect. Hepatitis C virus carriers may not feel any symptoms for as long as 20 years after they become infected before developing hepatocirrhosis or even liver cancer.

It is estimated that there are about 40 million people infected by the hepatitis C virus in China with about 1 million living in Guangdong. However, only a few people go to hospitals because they are ignorant of the infection, and hepatitis C is not a routine item in normal check-up.

The only way to prevent hepatitis C is early discovery and early treatment because a vaccine has not been developed yet, Hu said, suggesting that those who used to engage in high-risk activities should have medical check-up as early as possible.

He listed the following conditions as high-risk: blood transfusion, medical operation, drug taking, unsafe sex, tattoos, using the razor or toothbrush of a hepatitis C patient, and abnormal liver function for no clear reason.
(China Daily November 25, 2004)

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