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Hepatitis C kills more people than any other infectious disease in US, CDC says
Liz Highleyman, 2016-05-06 10:10:00
The number of deaths due to hepatitis C is at an all-time high in the US
and exceeds those attributable to 60 other infectious diseases including HIV
and tuberculosis, according to new surveillance data released this week by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, a related Italian
study found that hepatitis C patients who are successfully treated have a life
expectancy similar to that of the general population.
An estimated 3.5 million people in the US are living with hepatitis C.
Over years or decades chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection can lead to
severe liver disease including cirrhosis, liver cancer and end-stage liver
failure; many people infected years ago are now developing serious
complications. New direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapies can cure hepatitis C
more than 90% of the time, but if treatment is started too late liver damage
may not be reversible.
The new preliminary CDC surveillance data show that there were 19,659 deaths associated with
hepatitis C in 2014, up from 11,051 in 2003 - a 78% increase over the past
decade. The hepatitis C death rate was especially high among people age 55 to
Hepatitis C prevalence in the US is highest among 'Baby Boomers' (people
born between 1945 and 1965), many of whom were infected decades ago. But cases
of acute HCV infection have more than doubled since 2010 - reaching 2,194 in
2014 - and these are largely occurring among younger people who inject drugs in
rural and suburban areas of the Midwest and Eastern US.
"Because hepatitis C often has few
noticeable symptoms, the number of new cases is likely much higher than what is
reported," said Dr John Ward, director of CDC's Division of Viral
Hepatitis. "Due to limited screening and underreporting, we estimate the
number of new infections is closer to 30,000 per year. We must act now to
diagnose and treat hidden infections before they become deadly and to prevent
The CDC recommends comprehensive prevention programs to reduce HCV
infections among drug users, including regular hepatitis C testing (along with
hepatitis B and HIV testing), rapid linkage to medical care for those who test
positive and access to substance use treatment, sterile injection equipment,
and other services.