Hepatitis C Prevalence Noted

At least 2.7 million Americans carry the hepatitis C virus, making it the most common blood-borne infection in the United States, a study found.

The study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is the first look at the prevalence of hepatitis C in the United States. The estimate was published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

"This is what we consider a conservative estimate," said Harold S. Margolis of CDC. "This is everyday Mr. and Mrs. American who live in a household. This doesn't include the homeless and the prison population. The number could be higher."

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, an estimated 1.2 million other people who were once infected no longer have any signs of the virus, Margolis said.

Scientists discovered the virus in 1989.

People who inject illegal drugs or engage in unprotected sex account for most people who carry hepatitis C, but people who had blood transfusions before mid-1992 also are at risk.

The disease and alcohol abuse rank as the leading causes of liver disease. The infection can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer and results in about 1,000 liver transplants annually in the United States.

The standard treatment is the drug interferon or a combination of interferon and ribavirin. In some patients, drugs can make all signs of the virus disappear, but it's unclear how long the effect lasts.

Cardio-Pump Edges Out CPR

A French study suggests that a gadget that looks like a toilet plunger is better than CPR at saving heart attack victims.

While earlier studies have found that the device, the Cardio-Pump, can be a life-saver, others have declared it no better than standard cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

With CPR, a person's palms are pressed against the victim's chest to force blood through the body, while oxygen is blown into the lungs. The pump is a handheld suction device that is intended to apply more pressure to the chest than bare hands alone can achieve.

The pump sells for about $200 overseas and has been used in France since 1992 but has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is not widely available in the United States.

The latest study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, found that among those patients treated with the pump, 5 percent survived at least one year, compared with 2 percent of those given CPR. The study also found that 6 percent of the patients treated with the pump were discharged from the hospital without any brain damage, compared with 2 percent of those given CPR.

The study examined heart attack cases in Paris and Thionville, France, from 1993 to 1995. People were given either the pump or standard CPR, depending on whether the attack occurred on an even or odd day of the month. A total of 377 were treated with the pump and 373 had CPR.

The American Heart Association has thus far declined to endorse the pump, noting that it is not FDA-approved. Lance Becker of the AHA council on cardiopulmonary and critical care called the research a "very promising preliminary study" but said it has some notable weaknesses.