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Progress Against Hepatitis C, a Sneaky Virus

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Forty years ago, a beloved neighbor was bedridden for weeks at a time with a mysterious ailment. She knew only that it involved her liver and that she must never drink alcohol, which would make things worse.

It was decades before the cause of these debilitating flare-ups was discovered: a viral infection at first called non-A, non-B hepatitis, then properly identified in 1989 as hepatitis C. The apparent source of her infection was a blood transfusion she had received decades earlier.

A screening test was soon developed, making it possible to check all blood products for the hepatitis C virus. But that by no means put an end to the infection. Transmission persists today, commonly the result of intravenous drug abuse with shared needles, sexual and especially anal intercourse, and, among health care workers, accidental needlesticks or other contact with infected blood.

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