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[CAIRO] A new study estimates that around half a million people in Egypt are infected annually with hepatitis C virus (HCV) — far more than any country in the world — and that one in every ten people in Egypt is a HCV carrier.

An important reason for the high incidence rate is the huge level of infection in the blood supply in Egypt, suggested Laith Abu-Raddad, a co-author of the study. "Much more transmission is likely to happen in Egypt because the background prevalence is about 20 times higher [than other countries]," he said.

However, the study's findings have been rejected by the country's Ministry of Health.

Wahid Doss, director of the Egyptian National Committee on Viral Hepatitis said the figure published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online last week (9 August) was highly exaggerated.

"According to our most recent survey, there are only some 100,000 new cases of hepatitis C every year," he told local newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.

But Abu-Raddad, who is an assistant professor in public health at Weill Cornell Medical College, Qatar, said he had anticipated the government's rejection of the study's conclusions.

"Usually whenever a result is politically sensitive, the study is rejected," he said.

However, Mohammed Ezz Al-Arab, head of the Oncology Unit at the National Hepatology and Tropical Medicine institute said that "these [high] numbers might have been true ten years ago".

"After all the government's efforts, such as launching new programs for infection control targeting healthcare providers and blood banks in Egypt, new HCV infections decreased considerably,"  Ezz Al- Arab said.

He said that most infected people are over 45 years old, as they were exposed to the contaminated intravenous injection during Egypt's anti-Bilharzia treatment campaign in the 1960s, which spread HCV. "Under the age of 15 the rates are really low because of a higher awareness nowadays due to the constant campaigns."

Alaa Ismail, head of the liver research unit at the faculty of medicine at Ain Shams University, Cairo, said there were many indicators suggesting a decrease in HCV infections, such as a decrease in the number of reported cases from blood banks.

But he added that even 100,000 would still be a high number, caused by a lack of disposable medical technologies and poor hygiene habits.

Egyptian officials admitted that country-wide field studies had not been conducted as they would require huge human resources.

Link to article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

Link to full article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences*

*free access to users in developing countries