What is Hepatitis C and Why Should You Care?
Everything You Need to Know About Hepatitis C: Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms, Treatment, and More
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, and hepatitis C is liver inflammation caused by the hepatitis C virus. Other types of viral hepatitis include hepatitis A, B, D, and E. Hepatitis A and E are generally acquired from contaminated food and drink, while hepatitis B, C, and D are transmitted via bodily fluids.
Prevalence of Hepatitis C: How Widespread Is It?
Hepatitis C comes in two forms: acute and chronic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 15 to 25 percent of people who become infected with hepatitis C only develop an acute infection, which spontaneously clears from the body within six months. ()
The other 75 percent to 85 percent of people go on to become hepatitis C carriers and develop a chronic infection, which can last a lifetime. That can lead to hepatitis C–related complications, including chronic liver disease, cirrhosis (irreversible scarring of the liver), and liver cancer.
A total of 2,967 cases of acute hepatitis C were reported in 2019, but the CDC estimates that the actual number of acute cases is 13.9 times the number of reported cases in any year. The CDC put the actual number of acute hepatitis C cases in 2019 at an estimated 41,200. ()
Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections affect about 3.5 million Americans, according to the CDC. (1) On a global scale, 2 to 3 percent of the world's population is living with hepatitis C, and about 399,000 people die each year from complications related to the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). (3)
Of the total number of Americans with chronic hepatitis C, baby boomers — people born between 1945 and 1965 — account for 75 percent. (4) The CDC recommends everyone born during those years get tested for hepatitis C. (5)
More in Hepatitis C
While baby boomers are more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than people in other age groups, the CDC reported in 2019 that new hepatitis C infections had nearly tripled over the previous five years, with the highest overall number of new infections affecting those ages 20 to 29. This is largely tied to the opioid epidemic in the United States and the increased use of injection drugs. (6)
In studies, men have been found to be less likely than women to spontaneously clear an acute infection from their blood, and more likely to develop liver complications from the infection. (7,8) Women with chronic infections are less likely to have disease progression, but the risk for fibrosis (initial scarring of the liver) in women changes over time and, as women age, they’re at increased risk of complications from hepatitis C infections, according to a report published in 2014 inThe Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Video: The Truth about Hepatitis B
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