U.S. death rates from viral hepatitis infections now surpass HIV-related deaths

Approximately 3.2 million people in the United States are infected with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV), a leading cause of liver disease, cirrhosis and death. Chronic hepatitis infection is most prevalent among people born from 1945 through 1965, and most of them do not know they are infected. This population is now reaching the age where they are at risk for HCV-related diseases and premature death, according to an article published in the Feb. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers examined death records from 1999 to 2007 for approximately 22 million people to examine mortality from HBV, HCV and HIV (for comparison). 

They found that annual deaths from HCV now exceed those from HIV (15,000 deaths from HCV versus 13,000 deaths from HIV), and deaths from hepatitis B and C are concentrated among middle-aged persons.

The authors warn that if policy initiatives do not focus on detection and treatment, then the burden of chronic hepatitis – already at epidemic proportions - will continue to rise. A second article being published in the same issue of the journal finds that birth-cohort testing and treatment for HCV is cost-effective, and could save thousands of lives each year. And a third published article finds that both universal triple therapy and IL-28B guided triple therapy (treatments proven to increase survival) are cost-effective for treating HCV.

The author of an accompanying editorial observes that a national “find-and-treat” policy designed to identify and aggressively treat those diagnosed is the missing piece of the puzzle.

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