Monday, March 19, 2012

Florida -Hepatitis C deaths on the rise among baby boomers

The chronic liver disease now accounts for more U.S. deaths than HIV/AIDS. 

Miami-Dade and Broward have more infections than other Florida counties
By Ana Veciana-Suarez
Source: Miami Herald

Joe never thought that his teenaged experimentation with intravenous drugs would come back to haunt him. But now the 60-year-old Tamarac resident is fighting liver cancer, a result of being infected decades earlier with hepatitisC.

He is one of about 3.2 million Americans — and one of 216,300 Floridians — with the chronic hepatitis infection, an illness that has surpassed HIV as a killer of U.S. adults annually. As a baby boomer who once shared drug needles that were likely tainted with the virus, he is also typical of the majority of those infected.

“I try to think positive,” said Joe, who asked that his name not be used because he fears the stigma of his past drug use will affect his career. “But who thought that something you did when you were young would affect you like this?”

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in 2008, the most recent year for national figures, hepatitis C — a virus that is usually transmitted through contact with infected blood — killed 15,768 Americans. In comparison, 11,924 deaths in 2008 were HIV-related. If the current pace continues, hepatitis C deaths are expected to reach 35,000 a year by 2030.

Of those deaths, 73 percent were baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964. They’re more likely to be infected because of injection-drug use during their youth and tainted blood transfusions, CDC scientists and doctors say. Before 1992, blood donations were not tested for the virus.
In Florida, hepatitis C was blamed for 3,002 deaths between 2005 and 2010. Miami-Dade accounted for 305 of those deaths, Broward 239 and Monroe 25.

Though research into treatments is progressing quickly, more work needs to be done in detecting the virus. Experts say the published number of deaths probably underestimates the scope of the problem because hepatitis C infection is not always recognized at the time of a person’s death. The disease tends to be asymptomatic in the early stages, too, so experts say at least half of the people with the infection don’t know they have it.

“It’s an insidious disease,” said Dr. Eugene Schiff, director of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “People are walking around not knowing they have it while it’s quietly doing damage. When they discover they’re infected, they may have already developed serious problems.”

Joe found out he had hepatitis C in 1989, when blood work for a routine physical showed he had elevated liver enzymes. He went through treatment, but two years ago a CT scan found a tumor in his liver, a result of hepatitis. He’s now on chemotherapy. “All those years I didn’t realize it was harming me,” he said.

About 75 to 85 percent of acute hepatitis C infections become chronic, which can eventually lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer — as it did with Joe. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants.

There are more chronic cases in Miami-Dade and Broward counties than in other parts of the state — 28,074 and 25,156, respectively. But the counties’ health departments note that this distinction may have to do more with population numbers than incidence rates. “We are more urbanized than other parts of the state,” said Dr. Vince Conte, deputy director of the department of epidemiology, disease control and immunization services at the Miami-Dade County Health Department. “We have more people.” 

Cases of chronic hepatitis C as of January 2012:
3.2 to 4 million in U.S.
216,314 in Florida
28,074 in Miami-Dade
25,156 in Broward
1,639 in Monroe
Hepatitis C deaths between 2005-2010
3,002 in Florida
305 in Miami-Dade
239 in Broward
35 in Monroe

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Video ABC7 - Hepatitis C deaths on the rise among baby boomers

Video Source ABC Channel 7 
By Paul Gessler, ABC7 Reporter
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