(HealthDay News) — U.S. health officials estimate that over three million Americans currently have chronic hepatitis C – most of whom don’t know it because the infection usually causes no symptoms. But with recent treatment advances, hepatitis C could become rare by 2036, researchers report in the August 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For the new study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Jagpreet Chhatwal, PhD, who conducted the study while at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and colleagues used a computer model to estimate the future effects of both hepatitis C screening and new drug regimens.

The researchers predicted that within the next 22 years, hepatitis C could become rare due to treatment advances. What’s more, nearly 79,000 cases of liver cancer, over 124,000 cases of cirrhosis, and 126,500 deaths could be averted by 2050. Chhatwal’s team also looked at what could happen if all Americans – not just baby boomers – got a one-time hepatitis C screening test. They say that would nearly double the number of cases detected in the next decade – from 487,000 to almost 934,000.

What the study does not address, Chhatwal said, is costs. He said more research is needed to see whether the costs of screening and treatment could be offset by the reduction in liver disease and liver transplants.

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