Hepatitis C Death Rate Outpaces Other Infectious Diseases

HCV-related death reached 19,596 in 2014 as cases of new infections have more than doubled from 2010 to 2014.

Surveillance data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that deaths from hepatitis C virus (HCV) reached 19,569 in 2014. In 2013, the number of HCV-related deaths was higher than the combined deaths of 60 other infectious diseases.

Researchers in these studies, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, used data from death certificates to calculate the findings, but investigators said that HCV is often unreported, so it is likely there were even more HCV-related deaths.

“Why are so many Americans dying of this preventable, curable disease?” asked Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “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.”

Data also showed new HCV infections among injection drug users. According to the study, acute HCV infections have more than doubled from 2010 to 2014, and the new cases were mostly young, white individuals with a history of injection drug use.

“Because hepatitis C often has few noticeable symptoms, the number of new cases is likely much higher than what is reported. Due to limited screening and underreporting, we estimate the number of new infections is closer to 30,000 per year,” said John W. Ward, MD, director of the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis. “We must act now to diagnose and treat hidden infections before they become deadly and to prevent new infections.”

The CDC recommends comprehensive prevention programs be put in place to avoid transmission and new cases of HCV. Regular testing for HCV, immediate medical care for patients who test positive, and access to substance abuse treatment should all be offered to these patients.