Hepatitis C Increases in Young People
Last updated: September 2021
Hepatitis C is liver disease often diagnosed in the Baby Boomer generation, but reports show hepatitis C is increasing in young people. Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks the liver and causes liver damage. People can have hepatitis C for years without any symptoms until liver damage is already present. Hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
How is hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is transmitted when hep C infected blood enters the body of someone who is not infected. There are numerous ways hepatitis C is transmitted. Some common ways include:
- Blood transfusions or organ transplants prior to 1992.
- Hep C infected needle sticks or unsterilized medical equipment used in a hospital or medical environment.
- If someone has ever had hemodialysis.
- Tattoos or piercing with unsterilized equipment.
- Shared needles or equipment used injecting or inhaling drugs with someone infected with hepatitis C.
- Shared razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers or personal hygiene items from someone infected with hepatitis C.
- If you’ve worked at a prison or have been incarcerated.
- Multiple sex partners, rough sex, or with those who have a sexually transmitted disease.
- Being born to a hepatitis C infected mother.
Why is hepatitis C increasing in young people?
The CDC reports an increase in hepatitis C among young people between 20 to 29 years old. The CDC states the increase is related to the increasing opioid use and drug injection in the United States.
What can be done?
Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, stated, “We must reach the hardest-hit communities with a range of prevention and treatment services that can diagnose people with hepatitis C, and link them to treatment. This wide range of services can also prevent the misuse of prescription drugs and ultimately stop drug use-which can also prevent others from getting hepatitis C in the first place.”1
Education about hepatitis C and how it is transmitted is key to prevention.
The National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan 2017-2020 has outlined strategies and goals in fighting hepatitis, including:2
- "Prevent new viral hepatitis infections
- Reduce deaths and improve the health of people living with viral hepatitis
- Reduce viral hepatitis health disparities
- Coordinate, monitor, and report on the implementation of viral hepatitis activities"
Hepatitis C treatment with direct-acting antiviral medications makes it possible to cure hepatitis C with a high cure rate (over 90% with most treatments), shorter treatment time, and few side effects. Patient assistance programs are available for those who need help with co-pays, or cannot afford treatment, and for those without medical insurance.