The investigators found deaths from hepatitis C surpassed deaths from HIV (15,000 from hepatitis C versus 13,000 from HIV). They also found that deaths from hepatitis C and B are mostly among the middle-aged.
"Seventy-three percent of hepatitis C deaths were reported among those 45 to 64 years old," Holmberg said. "As the population living with hepatitis C in the United States -- 66 percent of whom were born between 1945 and 1964 -- has aged and entered a high-risk period of life for hepatitis C-related disease, deaths associated with hepatitis C have increased substantially."
Vaccines exist for hepatitis B, but not for hepatitis C. If current trends continue, by 2030 deaths from hepatitis C are expected to reach 35,000 a year, researchers say.
According to Dr. Eugene Schiff, director of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, "the study is important because it documents and authenticates what we knew." But, "what we need right now, particularly for hepatitis C, is routine screening," noted Schiff, who was not involved with the study.
Dramatic changes are under way in the treatment of hepatitis C, he pointed out. Current treatment involves a cocktail of drugs, including antivirals and interferon, which many people cannot tolerate.
In about two years, interferon-free treatment will be available, Schiff said. This means higher cure rates with fewer side effects, which will make treatment tolerable by most patients, he explained.
"What's going to happen is what happened with HIV -- test and treat," Schiff said. "Patients will be given an interferon-free regimen with cure rates approaching 100 percent," he predicted.
Another study in the same journal issue found that the most up-to-date treatment for hepatitis C can cost $60,000, but may be cost-effective, according to Stanford University health policy researchers.<
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