Hepatitis C virus (HCV)–associated mortality is increasing and is now the leading cause of death among all infectious diseases, with a record-high 19,659 deaths occurring in 2014, according to the CDC.
As reported in Clinical Infectious Diseases, Kathleen N. Ly, MPH, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis in Atlanta, and colleagues also found that the number of deaths associated with hepatitis C in 2013 was greater than the combined number of deaths resulting from 60 other infectious diseases, including HIV, pneumococcal disease, and tuberculosis. The researchers noted that because the two studies used data from death certificates, which often underreport hepatitis C, the actual number of hepatitis C-related deaths may be even greater.
The CDC’s findings may also suggest a new wave of hepatitis C infections among people who inject drugs. Since 2010, acute cases of hepatitis C infection have more than doubled, with 2,194 reported cases in 2014. The new cases most commonly occurred in young, white persons who have a history of injection drug use and live in rural and suburban areas of the Midwest and Eastern United States.
“Once hepatitis C testing and treatment are as routine as they are for high cholesterol and colon cancer, we will see people living the long, healthy lives they deserve,” stated Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
“Because hepatitis C often has few noticeable symptoms, the number of new cases is likely much higher than what is reported,” stated John W. Ward, MD, director of the 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 new infections.”
The CDC recommends the implementation of comprehensive prevention programs to lower the risk of drug-related hepatitis C transmission. The agency advises that these programs should include regular testing for hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and HIV; rapid links to medical care for people who test positive; and access to substance abuse treatment, sterile injection equipment, and other services.
“The increasing HCV-associated mortality trend underscores the urgency in finding, evaluating, and treating HCV-infected persons,” Ms. Ly and colleagues commented.
- CDC. Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease. May 4, 2016. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0504-hepc-mortality.html
- Ly KN, Hughes EM, Jiles RB, Holmberg SD. Rising mortality associated with hepatitis C virus in the United States, 2003-2013. Clin Infect Dis. 201615;62(10):1287-1288; doi: 10.1093/cid/ciw111