Hepatitis C's High Hidden Mortality Rates

Hepatitis C's High Hidden Mortality Rates

Quick: What’s the deadliest infectious disease in the US? If you said hepatitis C (HCV), you’re right. This virus accounts for more deaths than all other similar illnesses (including HIV) combined. Worse, the disease is on the rise, and experts say there are probably many more cases than we know about.

Officially, hepatitis C accounted for nearly 20,000 deaths in 2013, the latest year available. That’s more than twice as many as HIV. And data from a large hepatitis study found that only a fraction of people with serious liver disease had HCV listed on their death certificates. On a national scale, this could mean that HCV was actually linked to between 75,000 and 100,000 deaths that year.

HCV cases in the ER are also on the rise
A 2015 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine reveals that urban ER physicians are seeing more and more cases of HCV in their emergency rooms—with high rates coming among baby boomers. The research shows that of the of the ER patients tested, 10 percent of them had the disease, and only about one-fourth of those knew they were infected. And that’s the scary part. Hepatitis C usually shows no symptoms, meaning that many aren’t aware that they’re infected.

Who should get screened
You or a loved one may be at risk for Hepatitis C—and not even know it. Consider getting tested if you have one or more of the following risk factors.

  1. You’re 50 or older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that baby boomers account for 75 percent of cases. So if you were born between the ages of 1945 to 1965, it’s important to get screened
  2. You have certain symptoms. While HCV symptoms are usually silent, there are two times symptoms may show up: soon after infection, and once the disease has damaged the liver. See a physician if you experience the following: nausea, jaundice, weight loss and loss of appetite, fatigue, itchy skin, brownish urine and discomfort in the upper right abdomen.
  3. You’ve ever shared needles. Whether it’s sharing drugs or getting a tattoo with dirty equipment, exposure to blood is the main transmitter of the disease. Additional risk factors: a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before 1992 or having many sexual partners.

The good news? Newer medications have been developed recently with cure rates that can exceed over 90 percent, so if you have the infection, talk to your doctor to see if these treatment options are right for you.

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