The ABCs of Those Hepatitis Infections

By Elvin, John | Insight on the News, December 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

The ABCs of Those Hepatitis Infections


Elvin, John, Insight on the News


Byline: John Elvin, INSIGHT

The ABCs of Those Hepatitis Infections

More than likely you noticed the news report recently from Pittsburgh concerning an outbreak of hepatitis, with the exact toll unknown because it can take as long as a month for symptoms to show up. Some people may not even know they have it, because this particular type of hepatitis shows up only as a flulike illness.

Though the name of the disease is familiar to many, it is not so well known that it actually refers to a whole group of viral infections. In this particular situation, the type of hepatitis is "A," usually less serious than some other forms. It is spread most often through consumption of contaminated food. Pittsburgh authorities believe the culprit in this case was green onions served at a suburban Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant. Apparently it is more difficult to clean green onions, or scallions, than it is to clean most other types of vegetables.

The alphabet of types of hepatitis runs all the way from "A" to "G."

The one that appears to be the most devastating is hepatitis C, widespread because it strikes those who shoot up drugs with dirty needles. Hepatitis C also can be spread through sexual activity with an infected person, sharing toothbrushes and razors, childbirth, tattoos, body piercings and by accidentally getting stuck with an infected needle. Up through the early 1990s, when strict safety measures were put in place, it also was spread by blood transfusion.

Some ignorance exists as to how the disease is communicated. The Kansas City Star ran a poll last year in that city and found that one-third of persons responding didn't know even one of the ways in which hepatitis C was spread. Some believed it was spread by sneezing or by hugging.

An interesting sidelight is that in the course of looking at the effects of hepatitis C, the Star uncovered a letter intended to be circulated to all Americans by the federal Office of the Surgeon General. David Satcher, who held the post at that time, described hepatitis C as "a silent epidemic" and urged those who might have been exposed to seek testing. The mass mailing of the letter was never accomplished. It apparently was decided to forward the letter to members of Congress and let them decide whether to put it in their mailings to constituents.

How do you know if you have the disease? The short and serious answer is, get tested for it. Symptoms for hepatitis A, B and C are, as mentioned, flulike. But hepatitis B and C also may be manifested in a yellow color as in jaundice, and ultimately as an often-fatal liver ailment. Unfortunately, it's quite possible to have some types of the disease without knowing it until a blood test is administered.

All Libertarians Are Not Big 'L'

In the last edition of nation in brief we passed along some information about the Free State Project, a nonprofit educational foundation, and its goal of luring 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire. Some of the participants who are Insight readers wrote asking that we clarify a few points, and of course we will be more than happy to give it a shot.

The main bone of contention is that there is a political party called Libertarian but also a group of individuals who call themselves libertarians and who may or may not be associated with that party, some being of other affiliations or none at all. These libertarians, with a lowercase "l," are united by a common, strong belief in individual rights and limited government.

"We're not an organ of the Libertarian Party," says Lars Hedbor, an activist involved in the Free State Project, though not speaking in any official capacity. He went on to make a few points from his own observations about members of various political groups who are participating, as well as their motives.

Republicans involved in the project favor it as a path to further tax reductions and as a vehicle for monitoring government spending in order to limit that spending to areas that truly are the responsibilities of government, he said. …

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