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Deaths From Hepatitis C Virus Hit All-Time High, CDC Reports

Mary Caffrey
CDC also published a separate study that found more people in the United States now die from hepatitis C than die from HIV or any other infectious disease. The report comes as The American Journal of Managed Care publishes a special issue on policy concerns over patient access to new therapies that cure HCV.
CDC reports that more people than ever died from hepatitis C virus (HCV) in 2014, and that cases of acute disease doubled between 2010 and 2014.1

The death toll from HCV reached 19,659, despite the availability of screening and a class of direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), which first reached the market in December 2013. However, concerns about cost have kept both commercial payers and some state Medicaid programs form making DAAs broadly available to everyone with HCV.

The American Journal of Managed Care this week has published a special issue on the policy issues surrounding availability of DAAs. Advocates for patients with HCV say that payers who decline to cover these drugs are being short-sighted and putting patient lives at risk.

“Why are so many Americans dying of this preventable, curable disease?” asked Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “Once hepatitis C testing and treatment are as routine as they are for high cholesterol and colon cancer, we will see people living the long healthy lives they deserve.”

A second CDC study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that annual hepatitis C-related mortality became the top cause of death among 60 infectious diseases, surpassing HIV, tuberculosis, pneumococcal disease, and others.2 CDC researchers found that death rates might actually be higher because death certificates often underreport HCV.

Most cases of HCV are found among baby boomers—those born between 1945 and 1964—who may have been living with the infection for years without realizing it. Causes of HCV infection include medical procedures in the years before safety precautions were upgraded to prevent blood-borne infection, transmission from blood transfusions, or use of needles during drug activity.

HCV often does not present symptoms early on, so those with the virus may develop liver cancer or failure unless they are tested and diagnosed.

References

1.      Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis—United States 2014. CDC website. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2014surveillance/commentary.htm. Released May 4, 2016.

2.      Ly KN, Hughes EM, Jiles RB, Holmberg SD. Rising mortality associated with hepatitis C virus in the United States, 2003-2013. Clin Infect Dis. 2016;62(10):1287-1288.

 
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