Background: The number of deaths in hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected persons recorded on US death certificates has been increasing, but actual rates and causes of death in these individuals have not been well elucidated.
Methods: Disease-specific, liver-related, and non-liver-related mortality data for HCV-infected patients in an observational cohort study, the Chronic Hepatitis Cohort Study (CHeCS) at 4 US healthcare systems, were compared with multiple cause of death (MCOD) data in 12 million death certificates in 2006-2010. Premortem diagnoses, liver biopsies, and FIB-4 scores (a noninvasive measure of liver damage) were examined.
Results: Of 2 143 369 adult patients seen at CHeCS sites in 2006-2010, 11 703 (0.5%) had diagnosed chronic HCV infection, and 1590 (14%) died. The majority of CHeCS decedents were born from 1945 to 1965 (75%), white (50%), and male (68%); mean age of death was 59 years, 15 years younger than MCOD deaths. The age-adjusted mortality rate for liver disease in CHeCS was 12 times higher than the MCOD rate. Before death, 63% of decedents had medical record evidence of chronic liver disease, 76% had elevated FIB-4 scores, and, among those biopsied, 70% had moderate or worse liver fibrosis. However, only 19% of all CHeCS decedents and only 30% of those with recorded liver disease had HCV listed on their death certificates.
Conclusions: HCV infection is greatly underdocumented on death certificates. The 16 622 persons with HCV listed in 2010 may represent only one-fifth of about 80 000 HCV-infected persons dying that year, at least two-thirds of whom (53 000 patients) would have had premortem indications of chronic liver disease.
Keywords: cause of death; hepatitis C virus; liver disease; mortality.