Hepatitis A deadly in hepatitis C sufferers

BOSTON, Jan. 28 (Reuters) – In the alphabet soup of hepatitis infections, researchers have found adding A to C can be a deadly mix.

People living with the liver disease hepatitis C face a dramatically higher risk of dying if they eat food infected with the related virus hepatitis A, according to a study published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

As a result, everyone with a chronic hepatitis C infection should be vaccinated for the hepatitis A bug, say the team of Italian doctors behind the new research.

Hepatitis A, which causes jaundice, fatigue, nausea and abdominal pain, is found in food and water contaminated by fecal material. Although up to 200,000 Americans are infected each year, only about 100 die.

But the team led by Dr. Sandro Vento of the University of Verona found that the death rate jumps dramatically among people who have already been infected with hepatitis C, a related but longer-lasting liver disease.

The Vento group found that out of the 17 people they studied who were already suffering from hepatitis C, six who subsequently contracted hepatitis A died from sudden liver failure.

An estimated 35,000 to 180,000 people in the United States develop hepatitis C each year from tainted blood or contaminated needles. The infection becomes persistent in about 85 percent of its victims. Between 8,000 and 10,000 die from it annually.

The Vento team also looked at what happens when hepatitis A infects people already suffering from another form of blood-borne hepatitis: hepatitis B. None of the 10 chronic hepatitis B sufferers were killed by their bout with hepatitis A.

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