Hepatitis C now kills more people in the US than HIV, CDC says


Hepatitis C, the sexually transmitted viral infection, now kills more people in the US than does HIV, according to a study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And of the estimated 3.2 million Americans with a chronic hepatitis infection, about half of them don't know it, Reuters cited the study as saying.

Meanwhile, screening all baby boomers could be one way to stem the problem, as about two-thirds of Americans with liver-destroying chronic hepatitis C (HCV) were born between 1945 and 1964, Reuters reported.

According to the study, hepatitis C killed 15,100 Americans in 2007, accounting for 0.6 percent of all deaths that year — compared with just over 12,700 deaths related to HIV.

Worse, the figures were "based on death certificates, and almost certainly underestimate the real scope," according to the CDC.

Almost 75 percent of HCV-related deaths occurred among baby boomers, MedScape News cited the study as saying.

"One of every 33 baby boomers are living with hepatitis C infection," the Associated Press quoted Dr. John Ward, the CDC's hepatitis chief, as saying. "Most people will be surprised, because it's a silent epidemic."

The initial infection often causes no symptoms, and the virus people may only discover they are infected when they develop irreversible liver cirrhosis.

While sharing a needle while injecting illegal drugs has become the biggest risk factor for hep-C infection, before 1992 the blood-borne virus was commonly was spread through blood transfusions, the AP wrote. 

However, casual injection-drug use back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, was a suspected factor in the instances of baby boomers with the virus, Reuters wrote.

The difference in infection rates between HCV and HIV was also owing to dropping HIV rates, according to the study authors.

MedScape cited Kathleen N. Ly from the Division of Viral Hepatitis, CDC, Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues as writing that: "The decrease in deaths from HIV infection in the past decades reflects the availability and utilization of highly effective therapies, as well as effective national implementation of programs for prevention and care."

They noted that a similar approach to HCV might lead to similar reductions in mortality over time.

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