Race Plays a Role in HIV/HCV Fatalities

Black women with HIV and hepatitis C less likely to die from liver disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) These days, people with HIV are most likely to die from complications of an opportunistic infection. But can race make a difference in how disease plays out?

In the case of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV), the answer seems to be yes, at least for African American women. A new study has found that they're less likely to die from liver disease than white or Hispanic women.

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The study was led by Dr. Monika Sarkar, at the University of California, San Francisco. It was published in the journal Hepatology.

In the United States, a third of those infected with HIV are also infected with hepatitis C. It's even more common in injection drug users – almost 80% are co-infected.

Hepatitis C infection is the second leading cause of death among HIV patients. Hepatitis C inflames the liver and can develop into cirrhosis or even liver cancer.

Previous studies have found that although black women with HIV and hepatitis C are less likely to get rid of the infection completely, they develop less scar tissue in the liver and have less liver inflammation in comparison to other ethnicities.

However, scientists did not know whether those findings also translated to actual deaths. Were black women with HIV also less likely to die from liver disease?

Dr. Sarkar and her colleagues studied 794 women. About half of them were African American women.

They were seen twice a year for a median of nine years to collect health data. During that period of time, 438 of the study participants died from disease.

Overall, 37 percent died from HIV/AIDS, and 11 percent died from liver-related disease. In every racial category – black, white and Hispanic – over 50 percent of the study population died.

But liver-related disease was the cause of death in only 8 percent of black women, compared to 21 percent of Hispanic women, and 14 percent of white women.

That means that black women were sixty percent less likely to die from liver disease.

“The reasons for the marked racial/ethnic differences in liver-related mortality in the current study certainly warrant further investigation,” the study concludes.

In other words, no one knows yet why black women fare better living with hepatitis C than other women. But it's worth it to find out.

The study was published in November 2012.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 13, 2012
Last Updated:
December 5, 2012