Recent Study Finds Acute Hepatitis C is Much More Common Than Previously Thought

While the CDC has systems in place to monitor the prevalence of acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, a recent study suggests that the incidence of this disease is being massively underreported.

A research team comprised of investigators from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital monitored a group of HCV patients that were participating in a long-term NIH study. Out of 183 patients diagnosed with the disease, only one fully met the CDC’s criteria to be a confirmed reportable case.

This study has strong national implications, since it suggests that public health officials are only aware of the tip of the iceberg of HCV infections. The disease has been on the rise in recent years with the increase in opioid addiction and subsequent injection of illicit drugs.

Massachusetts has a fairly rigorous surveillance system for HCV and collects any evidence of infection. This allows them to track trends such as the epidemic in young people who inject drugs. However, parts of the country that only track acute HCV are likely to be severely underestimating the prevalence of this disease and thus hampering efforts to contain it.

Considering the costs of treating hepatitis C if it continues to spread, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists changed their reporting procedures for acute and chronic HCV infection. The CDC will officially adopt changes in the case definitions for active and chronic HCV infection in January 2016.

Having a more accurate understanding of the prevalence of HCV infection will help public health officials better target resources to respond to this epidemic.