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More Americans die as a result of hepatitis C infection annually than from HIV-related causes, pointing out the need for expanded screening and improved access to care for hepatitis C, government researchers report.

African Americans face a “triple whammy” when it comes to the hepatitis C virus, a new study finds.

Two aspects of this triple threat are well known: the high prevalence of the virus in the African-American community and the lower response to therapy of infected individuals, according to Zobair Younossi, MD, of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va.

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But there’s a third threat: African Americans don’t spontaneously clear the virus as often as other racial and ethnic groups, Younossi reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

“I would call it a triple whammy — high prevalence, lower chance of spontaneous clearance, and then the lower chance of sustained virologic response,” said Younossi.

“This is the population that we really need to focus on and develop something that will help,” he said during a poster presentation.

Younossi and colleagues analyzed data collected from 2005 to 2008 by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included clinical and laboratory data on nearly 15,000 participants.

Included in the data were results for tests for hepatitis C antibodies and RNA, Younossi said, which allowed the researchers to look at rates of spontaneous clearance of the virus.

All told, they found that 192 of the 14,750 participants had antibodies to the virus. Also, 149 of the participants had hepatitis C RNA, indicating they remained infected. The other 43 had cleared the virus naturally.

In a univariate analysis, the only factor that was significantly different between the groups was the proportion of African Americans who remained infected versus those who had cleared the virus (P=0.0163), Younossi said.

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