STAT calculated hepatitis C deaths using the same method as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which any death that lists hepatitis C as a primary or contributing cause is considered hepatitis C-related. The CDC uses this method because hepatitis C is often underreported as a primary cause of death on death certificates.
The data STAT analyzed was collected by the Department of Justice and housed at the University of Michigan. Those data typically are only available to Ph.D. researchers who have a research plan approved by the government. STAT’s agreement allowed us to view the data without identifying information, such as names, ethnicity, or ages of the deceased.
In STAT’s data, the most common primary cause of death was hepatitis C itself, with liver cirrhosis and liver disease trailing close behind.
The 1,013 tally is still likely an undercount. It excludes hundreds of deaths potentially caused by the virus that were not reported as hepatitis C-related. Under federal law, prisons are only required to report one cause of death, and thus complex deaths like those from liver cancer are not always explicitly linked to conditions like hepatitis C.
Sixty percent of the 27,000 death records STAT reviewed listed a single cause of death. There were an additional 1,131 deaths from conditions like liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver failure that could have been caused by hepatitis C but did not include enough information to say definitively.
STAT’s tally also does not include incarcerated people who were paroled shortly before their death to die at home.
About the investigation
STAT found that more than 1,000 incarcerated people died from hepatitis C-related complications in the six years after a curative drug hit the market. Death Sentence explores prisons’ blatant refusal to test and treat people with the condition and how that has impacted incarcerated people and their families. Read more of the stories from the project.