Chronic hepatitis C: an age wave of disease burden.
There are at least 2.7 million individuals in the United States, most of them in their 40s and 50s, who are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). As these infected individuals get older, about 20% will develop cirrhosis, and a significant fraction of those with cirrhosis (about 1 in 10) will then develop serious decompensated liver disease or hepatocellular carcinoma. Currently, HCV is the primary cause of death in 8000 to 12 000 people every year; the virus is also the primary reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Although the number of new cases of HCV infection has been dropping steadily since the introduction of improved blood-supply screening, the "age wave" of existing chronic HCV in baby boomers is expected to contribute to a substantial rise in morbidity, mortality, and costs over the next 2 decades. Although it is difficult to predict which HCV-infected patients will progress to serious liver disease, the availability of a combination drug regimen (peginterferon alfa plus ribavirin) that essentially "cures" the disease in more than half of treated patients now provides clinicians and pharmacists in managed care settings with the tools needed to diminish the impact of the anticipated wave of liver disease. This article reviews the epidemiology, natural history, clinical and economic burden, and screening and treatment options for HCV.
McHutchison, JG; Bacon, BR
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