Hepatitis C Mortality Up Over 10 Years, While Deaths from Other Infections Drop

Catherine Kolonko

The number of deaths associated with the hepatitis C virus climbed well above those of several other infectious diseases over a 10-year period ending in 2013, according to a recent government study.

The number of deaths associated with the hepatitis C virus climbed well above those of several other infectious diseases over a 10-year period ending in 2013, according to a recent government study.

To gather current trends estimates related to hepatitis C mortality, researchers looked at data on multiple cause of death and compared it to trends in deaths that were associated with 60 other nationally notifiable infectious conditions (ONNIC) that are routinely reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Results were published in March in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

“Despite improving therapies, our study found that deaths associated with HCV continued to rise while deaths associated with 60 other ONNICs that are routinely reported to CDC declined,” lead author Kathleen Ly stated in the journal article.

Results from the study and previous analyses show that the hepatitis C-related deaths occurred mainly in adults between the ages of 55 to 64, the so-called baby boom generation, “indicating the premature loss of life and economic burden with HCV infection,” note the authors. Recent health campaigns worldwide have encouraged people in this age group to be tested for the bloodborne virus, which can seriously damage the liver over time.

People from the baby boom generation could have been unknowingly infected if they had a tainted blood transfusion before 1992 when blood supplies were not universally screened. Health officials warn that the virus can live in someone for decades without any symptoms of illness.

Researchers examined death certificate information obtained from the National Center for Health Statistics public use data. They examined two disease categories; hepatitis C and ONNIC as classified by the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision.

The results of the analysis showed that the number of deaths associated with hepatitis C nearly doubled over a decade, increasing from 11,051 in the year 2003 to 19,368 in 2013. In contrast, the number of deaths associated with the combined 60 other infectious conditions dropped from 24,745 in the year 2003 to 17,915 in 2013, the article stated.

The authors attribute the decline in ONNIC-related deaths largely to a 41.8% decline in the number of deaths related to HIV, which fell from 15,168 in 2003 to 8,831 deaths in 2013. Steep declines in the number of deaths related to two other conditions, pneumococcal disease (31.0%) and tuberculosis (28.2%), also helped shrink the number of ONNIC-related deaths over the ten years studied. Effective public health programs and policies likely contributed to these declines, states the article.

Since late 2013, FDA regulators have approved Sovaldi and a handful of other all-oral antiviral drugs that work faster with fewer side effects than traditional treatments involving use of interferon. Despite enthusiasm for these newer drugs, the continued health burden and escalating mortality related to hepatitis C “remain underappreciated,” according to the study authors.

“The unabated increasing trend in the number of hepatitis C—related deaths documented from 1999 to 2013, predominantly among middle-aged persons, underscores the urgency in finding, evaluating, and treating patients in the largest infectious disease epidemic in the United States,” the authors conclude.