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April 23, 1997

Hepatitis C Is Focus of NIH Consensus Panel

JAMA. 1997;277(16):1268-1269. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540400018005

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CONSENSUS conferences held by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have almost always dealt with ways of managing a current clinical problem. In contrast, the most recent consensus meeting tried to deal with a future possibility: the emergence in the next few decades of an epidemic of hepatitis C.

Nearly 4 million people in the United States are currently infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). About 30000 new infections are diagnosed each year, and 8000 infected people die. "Without effective intervention, [those numbers are] expected to triple in the next 10 to 20 years," warned the consensus panel. Complications of HCV infection are now the major reason for liver transplantation in the United States.

In the absence of any definitive treatment or preventive measure such as a vaccine, the panelists were charged, among other things, with recommending measures that physicians can take to slow the development of cirrhosis and ultimate