Deaths from hepatitis C on the rise

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise and baby boomers are the most at risk, according to a study published by the CDC.

According to the CDC web site, 3.2 million people are living with the disease.

UAMS assistant professor of medicine Dr. Shane Speights said the millions of people living with hepatitis

C might not even know they have it, which could account for the recent increase in deaths from the disease.

"The likelihood that we have an older generation that is now coming up positive for this disease likely just expresses the fact that it could be a disease that lies dormant for a long time and doesn't show up for a while until you start having symptoms," Dr. Speights said.

CDC researchers analyzed death records in the United States from 1999 to 2007. "In 2007, about 17, 000 new people were diagnosed with the disease," Dr. Speights said.

The findings show people born between 1945 and 1965, make up about three-fourths of the deaths from the contagious liver disease.

Dr. Speights said another reason that might account for the increase is the change in blood testing in the early 1990's.

"Starting in 1992 all the blood products were screened vigorously for those sorts of diseases. We do that now, so blood transfusions that occur now, the likelihood is extremely low, but those that received transfusions prior to 1992 could be at risk."

He said now the most common way to spread hepatitis C is through needle sharing. The next step for researchers is to evaluate policy initiatives to diagnose the disease sooner rather than later.

"Someone can be sick with the virus and not even know it until there's severe damage to the liver and then they start having symptoms. By then a lot of times it's too late."

Researchers also found that during the same period between 1999 and 2007, hepatitis C death rates surpassed HIV death rates in the United States.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.