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Hep C Cases have Dropped due to Spike in Deaths, Study Repots

Update Date: Mar 04, 2014 11:14 AM EST

According to a new government study, researchers reported that the number of Americans infected with Hepatitis C has fallen. The researchers found that the lower incidence rate is not a sign of progress, but rather, the result of an increase in deaths from the infection. The researchers stress the importance of preventive screening in order to reduce mortality rates.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that a high percentage of Americans are unaware of their hepatitis C status. When the virus infects the body, it increased the individual's risk of liver disease, liver cancer and other health complications. With proper treatment, the virus could be fought off, which is why it is extremely important for people who are at-risk to get tested. In this study, the researchers set out to examine the effects of hepatitis C.

The team used information provided by a survey that reached out to U.S. households from 2003 through to 2010. Since 2000, the researchers discovered that the number of people living with hepatitis C has decreased by around 500,000. The 16 percent reduction, however, is not due to the fact that the virus is not infecting as many people. The researchers reported that the reduction was most likely the result of more deaths related to hepatitis C. The team calculated that currently roughly one percent of the American population over the age of five has hepatitis C. This percentage translates to 2.68 million people.

"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 researchers also examined the risk factors for the illness in order to see if these factors have changed over the past few years. The team concluded that the risks, such as intravenous drug use and blood transfusions, remained pretty much the same. The researchers stated that in order to treat more cases of hepatitis C, at-risk people should get screened. They recommend baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965 to get a one-time screening since this group of people is six times more likely to have hepatitis C.

"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," Dr. Peter Malet, director of the Center for Liver Diseases at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y according to Philly.

The study was published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

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