A  A  A   Print
Nearly 3 Million Americans Living With Hepatitis C

Nearly 3 Million Americans Living With Hepatitis C

MONDAY, March 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- More than 2.7 million Americans are currently infected with liver-damaging hepatitis C, federal officials say, and one expert believes that number could be even higher.

These individuals are at much higher risk for liver disease, liver cancer and other chronic health issues, experts note. And although there are treatments available that can rid the body of the virus, many Americans remain unaware that they are even infected, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The long-term consequences of not diagnosing and treating hepatitis C are dire: Experts say more people in the United States now die from infection with hepatitis C than from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The new survey of U.S. households, which took place between 2003 and 2010, found the number of people living with hepatitis C has actually fallen by 500,000 since 2000. The researchers cautioned, however, that the number might only be the result of more people in an aging population dying from the infection.

In addition to estimating how many people in the United States are living with hepatitis C, the researchers also investigated risk factors for the virus. The risk factors they identified are the same as those identified in previous years, including intravenous drug use and receiving a blood transfusion before 1992.

One expert said the CDC survey might be missing even more infected people, however.

"Millions of U.S. residents are infected with chronic hepatitis C," said Dr. David Bernstein, chief of the division of hepatology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. "[But] our methods of estimating the true prevalence of the disease is flawed. All [federal government] reports underestimate the true prevalence of hepatitis C infection as they do not include the homeless or the incarcerated -- two large populations with a high prevalence of hepatitis C infection."

The survey, published March 3 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, also showed that only about half of those infected with hepatitis C reported having one of the major risk factors for infection. So screening patients based only on their transfusion history or intravenous drug use might not help spot those living with the condition, the researchers said.

Because Baby Boomers are six times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C, the CDC now recommends one-time screening for those born between 1945 and 1965.

In the meantime, the advent of powerful new medications that can rid the body of hepatitis C gives room for optimism, another expert said.

"There is an ongoing, exciting sea change in the management of hepatitis C," said Dr. Peter Malet, director of the Center for Liver Diseases at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. "Two new oral medications -- sofosbuvir and simeprevir -- were recently approved for treatment and several more are expected to be approved in 2015."

"With expanded identification of patients with hepatitis C and easier to tolerate, more effective treatment, the illness and death from chronic hepatitis C can be sharply curtailed in the near future," Malet said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on hepatitis C.

SOURCES: Peter Malet, M.D., director, Center for Liver Diseases, division of gastroenterology, hematology & nutrition, Winthrop University Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.; David Bernstein, M.D., chief, division of hepatology, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, N.Y.; American College of Physicians, news release, March 3, 2014

 
Today's Interactive Tools
Related Items

The third-party content provided in the Health Library of phoebeputney.com is for informational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. If you or your child has or suspect you may have a health problem, please consult your primary care physician. If you or your child may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 or other emergency health care provider immediately in the United States or the appropriate health agency of your country. For more information regarding site usage, please visit: Privacy Information, Terms of Use or Disclaimer.

Follow us online:

© 2014 Phoebe Putney Health System  |  417 Third Avenue, Albany, Georgia 31701  |  Telephone 877.312.1167

Phoebe Putney Health System is a network of hospitals, family medicine clinics, rehab facilities, auxiliary services, and medical education training facilities. Founded in 1911,
Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (the flagship hospital) is one of Georgia's largest comprehensive regional medical centers. From the beginning, Phoebe's mission and vision
has been to bring the finest medical talent and technology to the citizens of Southwest Georgia, and to serve all citizens of the community regardless of ability to pay.