Piercing the virus

Feb 1, 2005

In the NYTimes today is an article about the dangers of tattoos and body piercings, The Perils of Needles To the Body, and it includes this sentence:

The primary concern is infection with blood-borne pathogens like H.I.V. and the C and B forms of the hepatitis virus.

The phrase about two forms of the hepatitis virus didn’t seem right to me, so I did some quick checking with the CDC and learned that, in fact, hepatitis B virus is a double-shelled deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) virus of the class Hepadnaviridae while hepatitis C virus is a single-stranded positive RNA virus of the class Flaviviridae. So, not two forms of the same virus, but two very different viruses. The confusion comes from the name hepatitis, which is a collection of diseases of the liver. Still, the Science editors of the Times should have caught that error.

Anton Zuiker

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