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People who inject drugs and have hepatitis C are “super-spreaders” of the virus, who are likely to infect 20 other people, a new study finds. Half of hepatitis C virus transmissions take place in the first two years after a person is initially infected.

Researchers from the University of Oxford in England say early diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C in people who inject drugs could help prevent the spread of the virus, HealthDay reports.

Hepatitis C, which can be spread through contact with infected blood, may lead to scarring of the liver, or liver cancer. There is no vaccine for the disease, the article notes. Many people with hepatitis C are unaware they have the disease, and go undiagnosed for more than a decade.

“For the first time we show that super-spreading in hepatitis C is led by intravenous drug users early in their infection,” study author Gkikas Magiorkinis said in a university news release. “Using this information, we can hopefully soon make a solid argument to support the scaling-up of early diagnosis and antiviral treatment in drug users. Helping these people and stopping the spread of hepatitis C is our ultimate target.”

The study appears in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.


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