Chicago—With as many as 4 million people in the United States and 200 million people worldwide estimated to harbor the hepatitis C virus (HCV), chronic HCV infection poses a serious threat to public health in the next century.
Hepatitis C virus has a high chronicity rate and can persist for years in the body, slowly destroying the liver. But because infected individuals are typically asymptomatic for years—and even decades—after becoming infected, many are unaware they have contracted the virus. As time passes, however, the disease will be diagnosed in more people who were infected in the 1970s and 1980s, many of whom will have sustained irreparable liver damage.
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