Increasing prevalence of cirrhosis among U.S. adults aware or unaware of their chronic hepatitis C virus infection

J Hepatol. 2016 May;64(5):1027-1032. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2016.01.009. Epub 2016 Jan 22.


Background & aims: Cirrhosis from hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major cause of end-stage liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma worldwide. We determine the prevalence of cirrhosis among HCV-infected American adults including those unaware of their infection.

Methods: Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, we identified participants aged ⩾20 years with detectable serum HCV RNA. The prevalence of advanced fibrosis and cirrhosis was determined for eras 1 (1988-94), 2 (1999-2006) and 3 (2007-2012) by using FIB-4 >3.25 and APRI >2.0, respectively.

Results: Out of 52,644 NHANES examinees, 49,429 were tested for HCV, of whom 725 met the inclusion criteria (positive HCV RNA with available data for FIB-4 and APRI). Based on APRI, 6.6% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.2-11.0) of HCV-infected adults in era 1, 7.6% (95% CI: 3.4-11.8) in era 2 and 17.0% (95% CI: 8.0-26.0) in era 3 had cirrhosis. In the multivariable regression analysis, this era effect was attributable to increasing age (odds ratio [OR]:1.04, 95% CI: 1.02-1.07), diabetes (OR: 2.33, 95% CI: 1.01-5.40) and obesity (OR: 2.96, 95% CI: 1.15-7.57). Cirrhosis was as common among respondents who were unaware of their infection as those who were aware (both 11%). Results were identical when FIB-4 was used.

Conclusions: Among HCV-infected American adults, the proportion with cirrhosis has increased rapidly. Cirrhosis prevalence remains high in individuals unaware of their HCV infection. These data highlight the urgency for HCV screening regardless of symptoms, systematic assessment for liver fibrosis in those with HCV infection and institution of antivirals to prevent advanced liver disease.

Lay summary: Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major cause of cirrhosis, creating a large public health burden. Based on the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey sample, we found the proportion of patients with cirrhosis among Americans with HCV infection increased from 6.6% to 17.0% over the past two decades. Patients who were unaware of their infection were just as likely to have cirrhosis as those who knew about their infection, which highlights the need for screening and treatment for HCV at the population level.

Keywords: Cirrhosis; Hepatitis C virus; Liver fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hepacivirus / genetics*
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / complications*
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / virology
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / epidemiology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / etiology
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • RNA, Viral / analysis*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • RNA, Viral