Many people who have hepatitis C don’t know it; They can be infected, but not have any symptoms. More than 50% of people with hepatitis C will require treatment to cure the chronic infection. These cases can be life-threatening. Hepatitis C is easy to diagnose, and it is curable, yet cases of infection are continuing to rise. New Vital Signs report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that the yearly rate of hepatitis C tripled between 2009 and 2018, and the highest rates of disease were found in people between 20-39 years of age. Nearly 40% of infected patients had no idea they were infected.1
Hepatitis C used to be more common in the “Baby Boomer” generation— those born between 1945 and 1965 — and people with high risk factors, such as a history of injection drug use. However, this latest report found that risk for hepatitis C actually spans across several generations, with the highest increase shown in people aged 20-39 years old.1
One reason for the increase in the younger patient population — generations known as “Generation X” (born between 1966-1980) and “Millennials” (born between 1981 and 1996) – is the increased use of opioid injection drugs. Use is particularly high in people in their 20s and 30s.1,2
Another increase observed was among babies born during the survey period. This makes sense considering the biggest increase of hepatitis C infection was among younger adults, which includes those of reproductive age, and hepatitis C can be transmitted from mother to child.1
New screening recommendations
According to the CDC, diagnosing hepatitis C in its early stage is critical to identify at-risk patients and slow the spread of disease. Hepatitis C is highly curable, but delayed diagnosis can lead to long-term health consequences and increased spread of disease to others.
Original screening recommendations from the CDC urged for testing only adults born between 1945 and 1965, and for people with certain, high risk factors. New hepatitis screening recommendations, however, advise that all adults 18 and over and all pregnant women be tested for hepatitis C infection. All adults should be tested at least once in their lifetime, and all pregnant women at least once during pregnancy.
With the data from this new report, the CDC says, “These findings highlight the need for immediate implementation of the new CDC universal hepatitis C screening recommendations for all adults and pregnant women”.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital Signs: Newly reported acute and chronic hepatitis c cases—United States, 2009-2018. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6914a2.htm?s_cid=mm6914a2_w. Accessed 4/15/2020.
Ryan B. Hep Magazine. New hepatitis C diagnoses span multiple generations. https://www.hepmag.com/article/new-hepatitis-c-diagnoses-span-multiple-generations. Accessed 4/15/2020.