Hepatitis C Could Become a Rare Disease by 2036

August 11, 2014

In the US, one in every 100 people has chronic hepatitis C. But according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, current screening and treatments for the disease will make it “rare” by the year 2036, affecting only one in every 1,500 people. They note this could even happen 10 years earlier if treatment and screening methods are further improved.
Researchers estimate that by the year 2036, only one in 1,500 people will have hepatitis C.

These findings come from a predictive computer model created by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, PA, in collaboration with investigators from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Hepatitis C is an infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Mainly spread through contact with blood from an HCV-infected individual, hepatitis C is the leading cause of chronic liver disease in the US and is accountable for more than 15,000 deaths each year.

Around 70-80% of individuals with HCV, however, do not experience any symptoms, meaning many people are not aware they have it until they undergo blood screening.

Because of this, in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 – deemed “baby boomers,” a population that incorporates around 81% of people with chronic HCV infection – should undergo a one-time screening for HCV.

As well as improved screening recommendations, treatment for hepatitis C has come a long way. Up until 2 years ago, there were only two drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the virus – pegylated interferon, which can be used alone, and ribavirin, which is used in combination with pegylated interferon.

But earlier this year came the first drug regimens for hepatitis C that could be taken orally. Sofosbuvir – brand name sovaldi – is a once-daily pill approved to treat HCV genotypes 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is used in combination with ribavirin or both ribavirin and pegylated interferon. Such regimens have demonstrated high effectiveness, making the virus undetectable in the blood of some patients.

Current screening recommendations are effective, but more can be done

In this latest study, led by Mina Kabiri, a doctoral student of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health – the team accounted for recent improvements in HCV screening and treatment to create their predictive model of HCV prevalence in the US, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and an array of clinical studies.

Fast facts about HCV

  • Approximately 75-85% of people who become infected with HCV develop chronic infection
  • Although HCV can be asymptomatic, some people will develop symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, abdominal pain and nausea
  • HCV symptoms occur, on average, 6-7 weeks after infection.

Their model, they say, uses the data to predict the number of people in the US with HCV infection at any given time between 2001 and 2050, while taking into account a range of different scenarios.

To validate the model, the team used it to predict HCV prevalence in the US between 2003-10. It reported 2.7 million cases – the same number reported by NHANES.

Using the model to predict long-term prevalence of HCV, the researchers estimate that the one-time screening of baby boomers currently in action can help identify 487,000 HCV cases in the next decade.

From this, they say that current screening guidelines, along with the highly effective treatments available, could make hepatitis C a rare disease in the next 22 years – with only 1 in 1,500 people becoming infected.

But the team calculated that if one-time screening was offered to all Americans – allowing more individuals to receive earlier treatment – 933,700 cases could be identified in the next 12 years, meaning hepatitis C could become a rare disease 10 years earlier than with current screening recommendations.

Furthermore, they estimate that universal HCV screening would further prevent 161,500 liver-related deaths, 13,900 liver transplants and 96,300 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma – the most common form of liver cancer.

Continue reading here. 

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