HCV Deaths at All-Time High in US

Hepatitis C infection mortality in 2013 surpassed the total combined number of deaths from 60 other infectious illnesses, the CDC reports.

Hepatitis C testing--followed by treatment-- needs to become routine, particularly in people born from 1945 to 1965, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today, releasing a report showing that HCV deaths are at all all-time high in the US.

HCV mortality is growing steadily, the CDC said. In 2013 those deaths exceeded total deaths from 60 other infectious diseases, according to a CDC study published online in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

"Despite enthusiasm for the new curative, brief (12-week), all-oral antiviral treatments for HCV infection,the continued health burden and increased mortality for

HCV-infected patients in the United States remain under appreciated," Kathleen Ly and colleagues at the CDC's division of hepatitis wrote in the article,

The researchers look at mortality data from 2003 to 2013 collected from death certificates.

They found there were 19,368 deaths from HCV in 2013, up from 11,051 in 2003.

The annual increase averaged 865 deaths per year.

HCV infection is now generally curable with direct-acting antivirals, but earlier Interferon-based therapies were less successful and came with severe side effects.

"One study found that only 19% of HCV and 16% of HCV/HIV co-infected patients advanced to treatment," the team noted.

The researchers also believe the HCV deaths were under-reported citing a study of one cohort analysis of 1,600 deaths found that "only 19% [of patients] ha HCV listed anywhere on their death certificate, although 75% had premortem indications of substantial or extensive liver disease at time of death."

"We believe these data greatly underestimate the true hepatitis C mortality burden," the team wrote.

Calling the situation"urgent" the researchers called on physicians to address their own "compassion fatigue" generated during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to abandon "a new therapeutic nihilism not about the efficacy of antivirals but about their perceived cost, despite evident cost-effectiveness."

Though HCV infection can come from injecting illegal drugs, people who have never been drug abusers can also get the virus.

HCV can also be acquired from medical treatments given before injection and blood transfusion techniques were less safe, said Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of the CDC's National enter for HIV/AIDS, STDs and TB.

"Once hepatitis C testing and treated are as routine as they are for high cholesterol and colon cancer, we will see people living the long,healthy lives they deserve.

Acute cases of HCV have more than doubled since 2010, increasing to 2,194 reported cases in 2014.

The new cases were predominantly among young, white individuals with a history of injection drug use and were reported mostly in the rural and suburban areas of the Midwestern and Eastern US.