Info gathering began Monday in New Mexico, Russia
On June 1, hospitals in Snezhinsk, Russia, began taking 1cc blood samples from randomly selected emergency room visitors who agree to the tests. Meanwhile the main hospitals in three small New Mexico cities--Los Alamos, Silver City, and Alamagordo, selected for their demographic similarities with Snezhinsk--are collecting samples from randomly selected volunteers. Each volunteer is asked to fill out a 150-item questionnaire intended to isolate behaviors that could be risk factors for contracting the disease.
In all 2,000 patients in Snezhinsk and 2,000 in New Mexico will be tested for hepatitis C over the next four or five months. Statistically about 2 percent, or 40 to 50 people at each site, are expected to be infected. Genotyping, it is hoped, may isolate new variants of the virus as well.
Sandia provided additional emergency room equipment as well as the video conference and computer hardware necessary for the hospitals involved to coordinate their work over the Internet. Sandia also helped design the patient questionnaire and postulate its questions along with hepatitus C experts at the New Mexico Department of Public Health and the UNM School of Medicine.
In the end, Zelicoff hopes, doctors will know a lot more about hepatitis C than before and will be more equipped to stem its spread. Hepatitis C is four to eight times more prevalent than HIV and AIDS in the U.S., and at least half of hepatitis C sufferers develop cirrhosis or liver cancer, he says.
Some 30 percent of those who contract hepatitis C have no identifiable history of exposure to the virus, according to the Hepatitis Foundation International. One in five people infected develops acute liver failure. Currently there is no hepatitis C vaccine.
Results of the study will be submitted for publication in an internationally recognized journal.