A doctor's office features a brochure rack with three sections: one is brochures with older adults pictured on it, one is brochures with a teddy bear on it, and between these two sections is an empty space.

Hepatitis C Risks: Are We Forgetting About Teens?

The number of teenagers and young adults with hepatitis C has gone up in recent years. So, doctors are looking for ways to deal with this issue.

Most of the new people being diagnosed with hepatitis C are under age 30. People aged 15 to 24 are the largest age group being diagnosed with hepatitis C today. In 2009, about 4 percent of the people diagnosed with hepatitis C were between 15 and 24 years old. That number grew to 9 percent by the end of 2016.1

New research focuses on young people

A new research study from Boston Medical Center suggests that more young people need to be tested for hepatitis C. This is especially true if they are at-risk for catching the virus. The biggest risk factor for hepatitis C is drug use.2 Other risk factors include health care workers who are accidentally stuck with a needle, and babies born to mothers with hepatitis C.

This is the first study to closely examine how young people are tested for hepatitis C. It also looks at how those young people are medically treated after their diagnosis.

The researchers identified almost 270,000 patients, aged 13 to 21 years old, being treated in government-funded health centers across the country.1

Testing and diagnosis

As they reviewed the records of these young people, the researchers found that hepatitis C testing takes several steps:

  • First, the patients were tested for hepatitis C antibodies. The antibodies can be an indication of an infection. About 2 percent of the people in this study tested positive.
  • Second, they looked at patients who had used drugs. Of that group, over 7 percent tested positive for hepatitis C antibodies.
  • The next step was for those who tested positive to have a follow-up appointment. Of those who had the follow-up appointment, 45 percent had a current hepatitis C infection.2
  • Learning as early as possible a patient's hepatitis C diagnosis is important as it gives doctors more time to cure the infection or stop the disease from getting worse. It also prevents the person from passing the virus to other people. Hepatitis C treatments are approved for patients as young as 12 years old.1
  • Finally, the research showed that changes need to be made to drug and recovery policies and programs.1

Talk to your doctor

Doctors say the lack of testing among young people is a concern. They also encourage young people to tell their doctors if they have used drugs, since that carries a risk for getting hep C.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have recommended that all adults, ages 18 and older, be tested for hepatitis C. But as of January 2020, this is not official policy yet.2

Experts believe that action should be taken to ensure that young patients are being tested and are treated for hepatitis C as quickly as possible.2

Treatment options

Once a person has tested positive for hepatitis C, more tests are needed. This testing allows each person to get a custom-made treatment designed to treat the specific type of the virus they have.1

Hepatitis C treatment typically takes 2-3 months and involves taking a few pills each day. With today's treatments, there are usually not many side effects. The Food and Drug Administration has approved treatment for children and teens between 12 and 17 years old.

Now that treatment is available for children, it is important for all young people to let their doctor know if they are at risk for hepatitis C. Early testing and treatment are the best and quickest way to get healthy or stay healthy.

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