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[Irish Medical Times] Hepatitis C and new treatments. (05 Jan 2012)


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection remains a major global health issue and a leading cause of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. In Ireland, the prevalence of chronic HCV infection is estimated to be between 0.5-1.2 per cent of the population (20,000 to 50,000 people), with the majority of cases remaining undiagnosed.

Given the latency period between acquiring the virus and the development of complications, the healthcare burden of HCV-related cirrhosis in this cohort is expected to rise significantly over the next two decades. Putting this into a global context, in the US population from 1999-2007, deaths from hepatitis B virus have remained fairly constant, death rates from HIV have decreased and HCV death rates have increased significantly and have now overtaken HIV as a cause of mortality.

Genotypes 1 (55 per cent) and 3 (39 per cent) are the predominant genotypes in Ireland. The main risk factors for acquiring HCV in an Irish population are intravenous drug use (80 per cent) and the receipt of infected blood or blood products (16 per cent), with only a minority of patients acquiring the virus through sexual exposure (1.2 per cent). Overall, the median age of diagnosis in Ireland is 28 years, whilst those who acquired the infection through blood products tend to be slightly older at the time of diagnosis (median age of 34 years).

The sex distribution of patients varies significantly and is related to the mode of virus acquisition — some 70 per cent of infected intravenous drug users are male, whereas 71 per cent of those infected from contaminated blood products are female, reflecting the anti-D contamination from 1977 to 1979.


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