Veterans group warns against hepatitis C Infection could be left from Vietnam service

December 03, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

A national Vietnam veterans organization says many soldiers who escaped the conflict could still fall victim to one of the jungle's silent killers, hepatitis C.

The Vietnam Veterans of America is recommending that veterans get tested for the disease, the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver. Spencer County, Ind., veterans officer Jack Morrison said the disease is prevalent in Southeast Asia and can incubate 20 to 25 years.

"Many were exposed three decades ago," he said. "If you catch it early, that's great, but if you don't catch it early and somebody could have said something [to warn you], I would be ticked off."

A VVA report says veterans and medics who came into contact with blood during the conflict could have contracted hepatitis C. The report also cites a 1997 Veterans Affairs study, which found the number of patients in VA hospitals who tested positive for hepatitis C almost tripled between 1991 and 1994.

In 1991, the report says, 6,612 VA patients tested positive for the disease. By 1994, the number had jumped to 18,854.

The VVA report says hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer, which kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year, and also one of the primary reasons for liver transplants. The report cites an Oregon study that found 30 percent of all liver transplants were going to Vietnam veterans.

Morrison said the VVA recommendation was simply precautionary but said veterans should take it seriously.

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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