The number of Americans who die of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-related causes each year has been rising steadily and is very likely underreported, aidsmap reports. The death rate recently surpassed that related to all other infectious diseases combined, including HIV. Results from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study were presented at IDWeek 2015 in San Diego.

The researchers looked at multiple-cause-of-death records of all the U.S. death certificates between 2003 and 2013. Then they took the deaths for which hep C was listed as an underlying condition and compared them with that year’s U.S. population as per the national census.

The hep C-related death rate rose from 11,051 in 2003 to 19,368 in 2013. Meanwhile, cumulative deaths from all other reportable infectious diseases—including HIV, staph infections, hepatitis B virus (HBV), tuberculosis (TB) and pneumonia (excluding deaths from the flu)—fell from 24,434 in 2003 to 18,002 in 2013.

To estimate how accurately the hep C death rate figures represent Americans who are actually dying of causes related to the virus, the researchers examined the death rates among the more than 12,000 members of the Chronic Hepatitis Cohort Study (CHeCS) between 2007 and 2013.  

This population’s death rate rose from 2.3 percent per year in 2007 to about 5.5 percent per year in 2013. Just 19 percent of the 1,600 CHeCS members who died between 2007 and 2013 had hep C listed on their death certificates. This is despite the fact that more than three-quarters of them had evidence of liver disease before they died. The researchers used this discrepancy to project that more than 75,000 Americans may have died of hep C-related causes in 2013.

To read the aidsmap article, click here.

To read the conference abstract, click here.