50,000 Hepatitis C Carriers Live Without Treatment

  • By Kim Sung-mo, Choi Won-woo

    August 30, 2016 12:26

    An estimated 230,000-250,000 hepatitis C carriers in Korea live without any treatment and are at risk of spreading the virus, government data reveal.

    The government has known about this for three or four years ago but done nothing. This revelation comes from materials the Ministry of Health and Welfare submitted to Saenuri Party lawmaker Kim Myung-yeon.

    A copy of the materials obtained by the Chosun Ilbo on Monday shows that there are an estimated 300,000 hepatitis C carriers in Korea, but only 45,000 to 70,000 were treated on national medical insurance from 2005 to 2012.

    "That means 230,000 to 255,000 of those infected with hepatitis C either don't know about their condition or can't get treatment," Kim said.

    The problem is that they could unwittingly infect others. The virus can be spread via shared hypodermic needles, blood transfusions, sexual contact and during piercings or tattoos with unsafe equipment. It can also be passed on from mother to fetus.

    According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 55 to 85 percent of people who test positive for hepatitis C become chronic patients, and 15 to 30 percent develop cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer within 20 years.

    Unlike hepatitis B, there is no vaccine and no known preventive drug. Some 70 percent of carriers do not show any symptoms.

    "Some people who contract hepatitis C show symptoms of jaundice, fatigue, indigestion and discomfort in the stomach," a KCDC official said. "But most don't show any symptoms, so more than half find out about their infection only when they develop cirrhosis or liver cancer."

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