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Hepatitis C-Related Hospitalizations Rise By Almost 50%

The opioid epidemic in the United States has led to a sharp increase in hepatitis C cases, and with that, a rise in hospitalizations according to a new report.

A new report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows that hospital stays for patients with hepatitis C have been on the rise since 2005, largely due to the increase of injection drug use in the opioid epidemic.

There are 3 different viruses that cause hepatitis, a condition marked by inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is a contagious blood-borne infection that is today mostly spread in the United States through shared needles and syringes used to inject drugs. Less commonly, the virus can spread through sexual contact or by sharing personal items such as razors with an infected individual. Acute hepatitis C develops within the first 6 months of exposure to the virus. Symptoms can include fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain; however, up to 80% of individuals with the acute infection do not experience symptoms. When the virus persists in the body, the infection can become chronic and last a lifetime, leading to serious liver problems such as cirrhosis or cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that about 30,500 cases of hepatitis C were reported in the United States in 2014, while there are as many as 3.9 million individuals in the country living with chronic hepatitis C. In 2014, the United States saw 19,659 reported hepatitis C-related deaths, up from 11,849 deaths in 2005. Now the HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has released a Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Statistical Brief, a report detailing findings on hepatitis C trends in the United States from 2005 to 2014. The report notes that the number of acute hepatitis C cases tripled from 2010 to 2015, largely as a result of the opioid epidemic, with mortality rates for those infected also on the rise.

The new report found that the number of inpatient hospital stays for patients seeking treatment solely for hepatitis C rose by nearly 49% from 2005 to 2014. In addition, hospital stays for hepatitis C patients also seeking treatment for hepatitis B, HIV, or alcoholic liver disease rose by about 11%. Overall, adults ages 52 to 72 years saw a more than 67% increase in hepatitis C-related hospitalizations —the most of any age group –while those ages 18 to 51 years saw a nearly 15% decrease in hospitalizations. Hospital stays involving hepatitis C were also longer, more expensive, and more likely to result in death than stays that did not involve hepatitis C.

Meanwhile, a recent study found that in many states, increased access through Medicaid to expensive but effective direct-acting antiviral medication has led to an increase in the number of individuals accessing the hepatitis C treatment, thereby decreasing the burden of hepatitis C-related mortality. “By testing, curing, and preventing hepatitis C, we can protect generations of Americans from needless suffering and death,” said the director of the CDC’s director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Jonathan Mermin, in a statement. “We must reach the hardest-hit communities with a range of prevention and treatment services that can diagnose people with hepatitis C and link them to treatment. This wide range of services can also prevent the misuse of prescription drugs and ultimately stop drug use — which can also prevent others from getting hepatitis C in the first place.”