April 30, 2003
Reusable glass syringes were used in the mid-1950s and 1960s to give the injected Salk vaccine to protect against polio in southern Italy until a new oral version, the Sabin vaccine, was introduced in 1965. "The phenomenon is circumscribed to certain areas -- where glass syringes were widely used, there is an increase of hepatitis C cases," said Montella.
Montella and associates examined the link by referring to a previous investigation, which included a sample of 1,908 people ages 30-60. Originally enrolled as healthy controls in another study, the subjects were known not to have used IV drugs or have had blood transfusions, both of which contribute to the spread of hepatitis C. Test results indicated that 7 percent of men and 5 percent of women ages 40-49 had antibodies to the hepatitis C virus, suggesting infection. Subjects born between the 1940s and early 1960s were three times as likely as younger subjects to have the virus, the researchers reported. Overall, roughly 6 percent of older adults had been HCV-infected, compared with about 2 percent of those ages 30-39. The full report, "Assessment of Iatrogenic Transmission of HCV in Southern Italy: Was the Cause the Salk Polio Vaccination?" was published in the Journal of Medical Virology (2003;70:49-50).
"This is indisputable data, and it is linked to the years when the Salk polio vaccination was administered," said Montella. "The high rate of HCV is most likely attributable to a misuse and reuse of needles and glass syringes being inadequately sterilized." The authors go on to recommend that "it will be useful to inform the population of southern Italy about the implication to their future health," due to chronic hepatitis C infections sometimes not causing any symptoms.
04.10.03; Rossella Lorenzi