The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a report showing that the number of people infected with hepatitis C in the U.S tripled between 2010 and 2015.

Most of the patients are aged between 20 and 29. Furthermore, the vast majority of patients use injectable drugs. The CDC warns that the number of infected people is much higher, mainly because symptoms are not always obvious and not everyone receives a timely diagnosis.

States with the highest rate of new hepatitis C infections, including Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia were not assisted by the CDC to find new cases between 2011 and 2015. Image credit: Spencer Plat/ Getty Images.

Hepatitis C may linger for years without symptoms

Hepatitis C is characterized by a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, often ending up in serious liver damage. Hepatitis C can be cured with oral medications, which is why the critical factor is prevention.

Female Patient
The CDC recommends screening at least once for anyone at risk of infection, which is mainly anyone that has been born between 1945 and 1965 when hepatitis C in blood samples were basically undiagnosed. Image credit: Penn State News.

Other risk factors include being a health care worker, using injected drugs, being infected with HIV, having a tattoo done in unsanitary conditions, receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, and being born out of a mother infected with hepatitis C.

If left untreated, the disease may scar the liver (cirrhosis), and eventually cause liver cancer and then liver failure.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) comes forth a week before National Hepatitis Testing Day, which is celebrated each year on May 19. Hepatitis C is the most common strain of hepatitis in the U.S., being responsible for more than 20,000 deaths each year.

Globally, hepatitis C and B have a higher mortality than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, adding to 1.5 million deaths each year. Hepatitis C is many times left out of death certificates due to symptoms appearing even decades after the patient is infected.

The fundamental cause for such mortality rates comes from the lack of treatment when it is needed, as hepatitis B is classified by the CDC as “curable with short and easily tolerable courses of treatment.”

Currently, there is no vaccine against hepatitis C, and prevention basically requires the patient to keep away from the virus. Treatment for hepatitis C exists, although it is expensive, which is why Medicaid patients are almost always denied any treatment.

The CDC reports that 75 percent of new cases of hepatitis C appear in people who inject drugs. Additionally, the agency estimates that somewhere between 850,000 and 2.2 million people are living in the U.S. without knowing they are infected with the hepatitis virus.

“Several early investigations of newly acquired HCV infections reveal that most occur among young, white persons who live in non-urban areas (particularly in states within the Appalachian, Midwestern, and New England regions of the country),” the report reads.

Source: CDC