About one in 100 people are currently infected with the hepatitis C
virus in the U.S. but that may drop to about one in 1,500 people by
2036 thanks to new medicines and increased screening regimens,
“We were pleasantly surprised that in the next 22 years we could
make this a rare disease,” said Jagpreet Chhatwal, the study’s
senior author from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that is typically
transmitted when the blood of an infected person enters the body of
a healthy person. Its symptoms include fever, nausea, stomach and
joint pain, dark urine, vomiting and a yellowing of the skin and
If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, liver
failure and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC). It may also lead to death.
The researchers write in the Annals of Internal Medicine that about
3.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C infections
that cost the country about $6.5 billion per year.
Treatment of hepatitis C infections recently changed with the
availability of new antiviral medicines in 2011 and the more recent
release of pill from Gilead Sciences known as Sovaldi to treat the
And the CDC and the government-backed U.S. Preventive Services Task
Force recently endorsed expanded hepatitis C screenings for every
adult born between 1945 and 1965.
“We were curious how the trend will change,” Chhatwal said. “How
will it dip or drop?”
For the study, he and his colleagues used a computer model to
estimate how the benefits of the new medicines and expanded
screenings might change the burden of hepatitis C infection in the
U.S. during the coming decades.
Under current conditions, hepatitis C would become a “rare” disease,
defined as a condition affecting no more than one in 1,500 people,
by 2036. The U.S. could reach that goal by 2026 by adopting a more
aggressive screening protocol, they add.
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The researchers write that the current screening regimen would
identify about 487,000 cases of hepatitis C infection within the
next 10 years. That could increase to 933,700 cases if a one-time,
universal screening policy is adopted.
Chhatwal said additional research is needed about the effects of
expanded screening for hepatitis C infections.
Still, under current conditions, he and his team found that 124,200
cases of severe liver cirrhosis, 78,800 cases of liver cancer,
126,500 liver-related deaths and 9,900 liver transplants may be
prevented by 2050.
“We are moving in a positive direction,” Chhatwal said. “These
updates and advances we expect will help patients and the healthcare
system as well.”
He cautions that it will only be possible if people have timely and
affordable treatment for hepatitis C infections.
Annals of Internal Medicine, online August 4, 2014.
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