February 22, 2012
Two-thirds of Americans with hepatitis C virus were born between 1945 and 1965, and federal health officials are considering whether to recommend one-time HCV testing for this group. "One of every 33 baby boomers are living with hepatitis C infection," said Dr. John Ward, director of CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis. "Most people will be surprised, because it's a silent epidemic."
Recorded deaths from HCV have surpassed those from HIV, a new CDC study of mortality data between 1999 and 2007 found. Deaths from HCV had increased significantly to 15,106 in 2007, while HIV deaths fell to 12,734. Three-fourths of hepatitis deaths occurred in people ages 45-64.
An estimated 3.2 million Americans have chronic HCV, but at least half may not know it. Before 1992, when widespread HCV testing of the blood supply began, the virus commonly was spread through blood transfusions. A one-time experiment with drugs, even if it was decades ago, also could have led to an infection. "Asking someone about a risk that happened 20 to 30 years ago is a lot to ask," Ward said.
Current CDC guidelines recommend testing those known to be at high risk, but federal health officials are considering whether anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should get a one-time HCV blood test. A second CDC-funded study analyzing that option concluded it had the potential to save 82,000 lives.
"Mortality will continue to grow for the next 10 to 15 years at least, unless we do something different" to find and treat silent HCV infections, Ward said.
Research suggests that adding to standard HCV treatment one of two new drugs could boost cure rates as high as 75 percent, with some patients able to complete therapy in just six months. A third study from Stanford University found the new triple HCV therapy would be cost-effective for people with advanced disease, and genetic testing could be used to help identify those with mild disease needing such treatment.
The studies, "The Increasing Burden of Mortality from Viral Hepatitis in the United States Between 1999 and 2007," "The Cost-Effectiveness of Birth-Cohort Screening for Hepatitis C Antibody in U.S. Primary Care Settings" and "New Protease Inhibitors for the Treatment of Chronic Hepatitis C: A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis," were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2012;156(4):271-278, 263-270 and 279-290, respectively).
02.21.2012; Lauran Neergaard
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