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Fewer Americans Are Living With Hepatitis C, Because More Have Died

March 4, 2014

This article was reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 2003-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data seemed to indicate declining hepatitis C prevalence among Americans. However, CDC and National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) analysts believe that the data actually showed increased mortality among people chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV).

CDC and NCHS analysts estimated that approximately 2.68 million U.S. residents (1 percent of the population older than five) had current HCV infections, and 900,000 people once had HCV but no longer had an active infection. Approximately 1.3 percent of Americans had a "past or current" HCV infection. Earlier studies estimated that 1.6 percent of Americans had past or current HCV infections in years 1999-2002, and 1.8 percent of the population had a past or current HCV infection in the years 1988-1994.

Researchers believed that if better treatments were curing people, the data would indicate fewer people with current HCV infections and an increase in the number of people with past or current HCV infections. Since the number of people in both groups was falling, it was likely that mortality among chronically infected persons had increased.

Although people with chronic HCV infections were more likely to have received a blood transfusion before 1992 or to have injected drugs, approximately 49 percent of people with chronic infections did not have either of these risk factors. The authors cautioned that risk-based screening was insufficient. CDC recommended that all people born between 1945 and 1965 have at least one hepatitis C test, because 81 percent of all people with chronic hepatitis C fell into that age group.

The full report, "Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection in the United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003 to 2010," was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine (2014; doi:10.7326/M13-1133).

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