Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hepatitis C Help


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is increasing in the United States and around the world today. HCV infection is the most common chronic blood borne infection in the United States. More than three-quarters of those who are infected will develop chronic liver diseaseand up to 20 percent will develop cirrhosis. It is estimated that there are 8,000 to 10,000 HCV-related deaths each year and the US Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health expect the rate to triple in the next 10 to 20 years.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that during the 1980s an average of 230,000 new infections occurred each year. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted during 1988-1994, indicated that an estimated 3.9 million (1.8%) Americans have been infected with HCV. Most are chronically infected and might not be aware of their infection because they do not have apparent symptoms. Infected persons may transmit the virus to others and are at risk for chronic liver disease or other HCV-related chronic diseases during the twenty to thirty years following infection.

General symptoms of Hepatitis C virus

Acute symptoms of Hepatitis C virus include flu-like symptoms, dark urine, light stools, jaundice, fever, fatigue, anorexia, nausea, and itching skin.

Chronic HCV symptoms include fatigue, malaise, weakness, mild fevers, liver pain, decreased appetite, and itching skin. However, many persons infected with HCV do not have obvious symptoms, especially in the early stages of chronic infection with HCV.

HCV infection is found within people of all ages. The highest prevalence rates of chronic HCV infection are found among those aged 30-49 years and among males. The highest incidence of acute hepatitis C is among 20-39 year olds with men having a slightly higher rate of acute infections. Because most HCV-infected people range between 30-49 years old, the number of deaths caused by HCV-related chronic liver disease could increase significantly during the next 10-20 years as more likelihood of complications develop.

While African Americans and whites currently have similar occurrence of acute infection, African Americans have a substantially higher prevalence of chronic HCV infection than do whites. Latinos have the highest rate of acute infection.

The CDC identified most risk factors associated with HCV transmission in the US in case-control studies conducted during 1978-1986. These risk factors included: blood transfusion, injection drug use, patient care or clinical laboratory work employment, sex partner or household member who has had a history of hepatitis, multiple sex partners, and low socioeconomic level. These studies reported no association with military service or exposures resulting from medical, surgical, or dental procedures, tattooing, acupuncture, ear piercing, or foreign travel, although it may be that the frequency of infection through these means may be too low too detect.

Currently, the highest rate of acute infection is among injecting drug users. Acute HCV infection is basically undetected in people who have had transfusions and in hemophiliacs since the early 1990s, since the blood supply in the US has been tested for HCV since 1990, with more sensitive tests developed in 1992.

Chinese Traditional Medicine for HCV

Many people with HCV are turning to Chinese traditional medicine, which has a rich history in the treatment of chronic hepatitis. Hepatitis B — and increasingly, Hepatitis C — is prevalent throughout China, accounting for increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in the mainland Chinese population. The Chinese medical system has been dedicated to solving the problem for many years, working to eliminate sources of hepatitis as well as developing treatments for hepatitis using both Chinese traditional medicine and Western medicine.

At the International Symposium on Viral Hepatitis and AIDS held in Beijing in April 1991, more than 100 papers on viral hepatitis were presented, several of which documented positive results of studies of Chinese herbal medicine. Studies of herbal antivirals and Xue-cooling and Xue-circulating herbs for repairing liver damage supported the hundreds of years of practical experience with Chinese herbs for the symptoms of hepatitis.

A literature review by Dr. Kevin Ergil in 1995 revealed at least 55 herbal formulas that may be used to treat hepatitis clinically. Recent herbal studies in China and Australia showed positive results in hepatitis C using similar formulas to those used widely in clinics in the US.

In the US, Chinese traditional medicine is a popular complementary or alternative therapy among patients with chronic liver disease. In a late 1990¡s anecdotal report from one of the largest clinical hepatology practices in San Francisco found that at least 20 to 30 percent of patients report use of Chinese herbal interventions for hepatitis. The level of use is probably underestimated because patients often choose not to divulge the use of complementary and alternative medicine therapies to their Western primary care physician.

Chinese medicine uses nutrition, acupuncture, heat therapies such as moxibustion, exercise, massage, meditation, and herbal medicine for the treatment of people with HCV. Protocols have been developed that have successfully helped HCV infected people to decrease symptoms, normalize or lower liver enzyme levels, and slow down the progression of liver disease.

A pilot study conducted among people co-infected with HIV and hepatitis at the Quan Yin Healing Arts Center in 1995 indicates that acupuncture alone may have an effect in lowering and normalizing liver enzyme levels.

The Hepatitis Help section explores the use of TCM treatment for HCV as well as the use of a comprehensive East/West approach to healing the liver. This section also explores the use of traditional Chinese medicine as both adjunctive and as an alternative to current Western treatment.