Reported cases of hepatitis C infection in the U.S. rose almost three-fold between 2011 and 2015, with a jump of 40 percent between 2011 and 2012 alone, according to a report released recently by the CDC. Deaths from hepatitis C have also increased, the report noted.
Hepatitis refers to an inflammation of the liver; often viruses are the culprits. There are five types of viruses which characteristically cause hepatitis, with hepatitis A, B, and C being the most common.
Hepatitis C, the most common type, is a bloodborne virus that is commonly transmitted from exposure to small quantities of blood. This typically occurs through injection drug use, unsafe health-care practices, and blood transfusion. In some people, hepatitis C can be a short-term illness, but in close to 85 percent of cases, it becomes a chronic infection. This can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. There are an estimated 3.5 million people in the U.S. currently living with hepatitis C. Most of them don’t know it, because it can take decades for signs or symptoms to develop, at which point liver damage may be severe.
The CDC reports that the increase in acute hepatitis C cases appears to be primarily due to rising rates of injection-drug use. Young, white males from non-urban areas (particularly in states in the Appalachian, Midwestern, and New England regions) account for most of the newly acquired infections.
The number of deaths due to hepatitis C has also increased, the CDC report noted, with 19,368 dying from the infection in 2013. The overall mortality rate from hepatitis C has increased as well, from 3.72 deaths per 100,000 population in 2003 to 5.03 deaths per 100,000 in 2013. Roughly one-half of all deaths occurred among people ages 55 to 64, and the CDC believes this to be an underestimate. This is particularly unfortunate, as there are antiviral drugs that can usually cure this infection.
Reducing the risk of hepatitis C
- Do not inject drugs and never share needles or syringes
- Do not share personal care items that may have blood on them (razors, toothbrushes)
- All health care workers should follow universal precautions to avoid exposure to blood products
- Ensure proper sterilization of equipment before getting a tattoo, piercing,or acupuncture
- If having sex with more than one partner, use latex condoms
In addition, all people born between 1945 and 1965 (baby boomers) should be tested for hepatitis C, as recommended by the CDC since 2012. This age group accounts for about 80 percent of those infected with hepatitis C.
Also see: Hepatitis C Testing.