From 1995 to 2004, deaths related to infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) rose by 123 percent in the US, according to a new report
Hepatitis C-related illness and death in the US has been predicted to rise as the number of people with long-standing infection increases, Dr. Matthew Wise, from the UCLA School of Public Health in Los Angeles, and colleagues note.
There are, however, limited data regarding the impact that HCV infections have had on mortality at the population level, due, in large part to difficulties in pinning down such infections as the cause of death.
The researchers' analysis of US Census records and multiple-cause-of-death data reveals that 56,409 HCV-related deaths occurred between 1995 and 2004. During this period, HCV-related mortality rates climbed from 1.09 to 2.44 deaths per 100,000.
The data do suggest that HCV death rates have slowed in recent years. The average annual increases from 2000 to 2004 were smaller than those seen from 1995 to 1999. Moreover, after peaking with a rate of 2.57 deaths per 100,000 in 2002, overall rates have declined.
Still, HCV-related death rates continue to climb in some groups, such as persons between 55 and 64 years of age. The findings also indicate a greater increase in men than in women, and in non-Hispanic blacks and Native Americans compared with non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics.
Wise and colleagues estimate that the 7,427 hepatitis C deaths logged in 2004 represented 148,611 years of potential life lost.
HCV, which attacks the liver, is typically spread through contact with contaminated blood products. Injection drug users are at particularly high risk for picking up the virus. Chronic hepatitis C is the leading reason for liver transplantation and it's estimated that up to 5 percent of people with chronic disease will die.