Hepatitis C Statistics

Millions of people around the world have hepatitis C (HCV). Hepatitis C is a virus in the blood that can cause liver problems. These problems include liver scarring (cirrhosis) or liver cancer. Liver problems from HCV is a common reason for liver transplant. HCV has an early (acute) phase and a long-term (chronic) phase.

Issues predicting who has HCV

It is possible to have HCV for years and not know it. This is because many people with HCV will not have symptoms until liver damage has occurred. This is why it can be hard to know exactly how many people have HCV. The facts we have may underestimate the true number of people impacted. However, doctors estimate as many as 71 million people around the world have HCV.1

In the United States, doctors believe about 1 percent of people have HCV. The estimates range from 2 to 5 million people or more. HCV is the most common blood infection in the United States.2-4

Age at infection

In recent years, people in their 20s and 30s have been getting HCV more often than older people. Certain states, like Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and West Virginia, have higher rates of new cases. These trends may be related to injection drug use.3-6

Baby Boomers in their 50s to 70s still make up a large portion of new infections, but cases in younger people are on the rise.3-6

Acute, or early phase, HCV

Very few people will have symptoms during the early phase of HCV. Only a couple thousand cases of acute HCV are reported each year. However, the true number of cases is thought to be 50,000 or more.2,5,6

Some of the most common ways of getting HCV include injection drug use, needle sticks, and childbirth. However, these are not the only ways to get HCV.2,5,6

Chronic HCV

It is possible to have no symptoms during the early phase of hepatitis C infection. About half of all people with HCV will clear the virus on their own. The other half will develop a long-term infection. A long-term infection is called chronic HCV.1-3

People with a chronic infection may have no symptoms for decades. In some cases, people will not know they have HCV until they have severe liver damage. Up to half of those with chronic HCV do not know they have the virus.1-3

The majority of HCV cases in the United States are chronic infections. There were more than 100,000 cases of chronic HCV diagnosed in 2019 alone.6

Vertical transmission

Hepatitis C can be transmitted from mother to baby during childbirth. This is called vertical transmission. About 6 out of every 100 children born to a mother with HCV will have the virus. The risk is higher for mothers with a higher viral load or who also have HIV. Vertical transmission is the most common cause of HCV in kids.2

Blood transfusions

Donated blood was not screened for hepatitis C until the early 1990s. Because of this, it was possible for HCV to be transmitted during blood transfusions. The risk is greatest for those who received a blood transfusion during or before the 1980s. Since then, great progress has been made in screening blood products. Today, the risk of getting HCV from a blood transfusion in the United States is nearly zero.2,5

Death from HCV

Because HCV is not perfectly reported, it is hard to know how many people die from it. Recently, between 14,000 and 20,000 deaths each year are thought to be related to HCV. Many of these deaths are related to liver failure or liver cancer. However, with the creation of new direct-acting antiviral drugs, HCV cure rates are increasing. Now, death rates are starting to improve as well.2,3,5,6

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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: August 2021.