Donald M. Jensen, MD, Chair and Program CME Advisor

It is estimated that about 4 million Americans or about 2% of the population are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Following acute infection, up to 75 to 85% of patients develop chronic hepatitis C, predisposing them to chronic complicated liver disease and, in some instances, premature death due to cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer. Indeed, HCV-related chronic liver disease contributes to about 8,000 to 10,000 deaths in the US each year.

The substantial public health and financial implications of HCV infection are only now being fully appreciated. Since most HCV-infected individuals in the US are between the ages of 30 and 49 years, the impact of HCV infection on health care costs in the future will be considerable as these individuals grow older and their disease progresses. A recent analysis estimated that by the year 2008, the continued maturation of the current cases of chronic HCV infection would result in a 61% increase in cirrhosis, 279% increase in decompensated patients, 68% increase in hepatocellular carcinoma, 528% increase in the need for liver transplantation and a 223% increase in liver-related deaths as compared with 1998.

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