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Surprising Data on What Typically Ends the Fight Against Hep C

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. August 9, 2011

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Despite a less than uplifting prognosis for those with chronic Hepatitis C, it is not a death sentence.

Receiving a diagnosis of chronic Hepatitis C can easily feel like a death sentence. That’s understandable considering that this infectious disease is hard to cure, is capable of progressively damaging the liver and can lead to a handful of fatal conditions. However, a new study demonstrates that Hepatitis C is far from a fatal illness, as it is surprisingly less lethal than most people realize.

An estimated four to five million Americans are currently living with Hepatitis C. With so many people affected, there is a growing demand to learn as much as we can about this virus and dispel the myths surrounding it.

About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a contagious virus that infects the liver, possibly leading to permanent liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. This virus is notoriously challenging for two main reasons:

  1. It’s hard to detect – Because its symptoms are either non-existent or vague and easily mistaken for something else, Hepatitis C is easy to miss. Many infected individuals first learn that they have Hepatitis C after years or even decades of living with it. Unfortunately, a large percentage of newly diagnosed individuals already have advanced liver disease upon learning they have Hepatitis C.
  2. It’s hard to treat – Hepatitis C is a particularly tenacious virus, hence the vast resources the pharmaceutical industry has plunged into improving their weapons against it. For decades, the standard treatment for Hepatitis was interferon and ribavirin – a drug combo that effectively eliminated the virus in about 50 percent of patients. New medications recently approved are expected to increase those odds; however, Hepatitis C is still extremely adept at evading treatment.

The Study on Hepatitis C and Cause of Death

A retrospective study described in the May 11, 2011, Journal of Hepatology, analyzed specific causes of death among people with chronic Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The study authors looked at medical records of people with chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C in New South Wales, Australia, over a 14-year span – between 1992 and 2006.

Upon looking at the medical records of over 128,000 people, Scott Walter and colleagues found that Hepatitis C is not as deadly as previously thought. To start with, the researchers found that cancer rates were significantly higher among those with Hepatitis B than those with Hepatitis C. More specifically, having Hepatitis B was found to be significantly more likely to lead to primary liver cancer than Hepatitis C. Most people assume that dying with Hepatitis C is a result of harm the virus has caused the liver. But the Australian researchers found otherwise. In fact, 72 percent of the deaths in subjects with Hepatitis C were from a drug overdose or suicide – not advanced liver disease.

The predominant fear most people have when managing chronic Hepatitis C is that their infection will cause irreparable and life-threatening damage to the liver. Thankfully, this newly released retrospective study demonstrates that the risk of dying from a Hepatitis C complication is relatively low.

During their battle against Hepatitis C, just over a quarter of those who lose their life die from advanced liver disease. Such data should help us direct our attention to the most common reasons those with Hepatitis C die; a drug overdose and suicide. Perhaps funneling resources into drug addiction treatment programs and suicide prevention for those with this disease could make an equally important contribution to the fight against Hepatitis C than the pharmaceutical company’s race to defeat this troublesome virus. In addition, this information demonstrates that most people who die with Hepatitis C do not die from Hepatitis C – meaning that being diagnosed with this virus is not a death sentence.

References:

http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hep_c/news/2011/0617_2011_a.html, Causes of Death Among People with Hepatitis B and C, James Learned, Retrieved June 22, 2011, hivandhepatitis.com, 2011.

http://www.jhep-elsevier.com/article/S0168-8278%2810%2900945-1/abstract, Trends in mortality after diagnosis of hepatitis B or C infection: 1992-2006, Scott R. Walker, et al, Retrieved June 22, 2011, Journal of Hepatology, May 2011.

http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/hepc-guide/hepatitis-c-topic-overview, Hepatitis Health, Center, Retrieved June 26, 2011, WebMD, LLC, 2011.

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