LOS ANGELES (April 6, 1999) -- Scientists are studying new treatments to combat two viruses that cause chronic liver inflammation, can have catastrophic consequences, and are expected to become increasingly devastating over the next decade. Inflammation of the liver, or hepatitis, can result from a variety of activities or events such as drug and alcohol abuse, ingestion of toxic chemicals or medications, or exposure to one of several viruses that affect the liver.
Of the six known liver-related viruses, referred to as hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, and G, the hepatitis B and C strains pose the greatest threat because they can become chronic diseases, are easily transmitted and they often remain unrecognized until they have caused significant damage to the liver.
In fact, because the liver does not contain nerve endings to send signals of pain to the brain, patients can live without symptoms for many years from the time of infection to diagnosis. By then, scarring, or cirrhosis, of the liver may be so widespread and function so diminished that transplantation offers the only prospect of survival. Liver damage due to hepatitis B or C also can lead to liver cancer, called hepatocellular carcinoma.
"Patients with liver disease can appear relatively well from their perspective, as well as from the perspective of their families and their health-care providers until they reach a stage of complications," according to John M. Vierling, M.D., director of Hepatology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, medical director of the hospital's liver transplantation program, and chair of the board of directors of the American Liver Foundation.
Chronic hepatitis B is currently blamed for about 6,000 deaths a year in the
United States, Dr. Vierling said. Hepatitis C is responsible for 10,000 deaths
but those numbers are expected to jump sharply. "With hepatitis C, we have
excellent evidence from the federal government that this rate could rise to
approximately 30,000 deaths p
Contact: Sandra Van
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center