More people die per year from hepatitis C than HIV each year in the USA, and the number of people dying from hepatitis C or B occurs disproportionately in middle-aged individuals, researchers from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The authors explained that the growing health burden and death rates from HBV (hepatitis B virus) and HCV (hepatitis C virus) in the USA appears to be occurring unnoticed by a considerable number of people.

John W. Ward, MD., and team set out to determine how hepatitis C and hepatitis B death rates compared to HIV rates. They gathered data on death rates from multiple causes from all US states plus the District of Columbia from the National Center for Health Statistics, dating from 1999 through 2007. Data on 22 million deaths were collected and examined.

They found that between 1999 and 2007:

  • Total annual hepatitis C virus deaths increased considerably to 15,106 by 2007
  • Total annual HIV deaths dropped to 12,734 by 2007
  • The following factors were linked to hepatitis C deaths – HIV co-infection, minority status, conditions related to alcohol abuse, hepatitis B virus infection, and chronic liver disease
  • The following factors raised the risk of dying from hepatitis B infection – conditions related to alcohol abuse, HIV co-infection, being of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, hepatitis C co-infection, and chronic liver disease
  • The majority of both types of hepatitis occurred among middle-aged individuals, aged 45 to 64.

Sources of hepatitis C infection, USA (CDC)

Dr. Ward explained:

“One of every 33 baby boomers are living with hepatitis C infection. Most people will be surprised, because it’s a silent epidemic.”

The authors explained that often the deceased death certificates were completed by people other than the patients’ primary physician, which is seen as a limitation to this study. Also, in many cases hepatitis B or hepatitis B had not been detected, and were therefore not reported as causes of death.

In an Abstract in the journal, the researchers concluded:

“By 2007, HCV had superseded HIV as a cause of death in the United States, and deaths from HCV and HBV disproportionately occurred in middle-aged persons. To achieve decreases in mortality similar to those seen with HIV requires new policy initiatives to detect patients with chronic hepatitis and link them to care and treatment.”

HCV EM picture 2
Hepatitis C virus purified from cell culture. An electron micropgraph (scale = 50 nanometers)

Written by Christian Nordqvist