Hepatitis C Statistics
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection affects over 70 million people worldwide, and roughly 3.5 million Americans (a little over 1% of the population). Of those with HCV in America, about 3.2 million have chronic (long-term) infection.1-3 HCV infection can sometimes have no symptoms, so it is possible to have HCV and not know it. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 50% of those who have HCV are not yet diagnosed.4 HCV is a leading cause of liver transplant, and a common cause of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).1,5
Annual new cases
In 2016, nearly 3,000 new cases of acute (short-term) HCV and 148,000 cases of chronic (long-term) HCV were reported in the United States.2 However, since many individuals don’t know they have HCV, the actual number of new cases may be much higher. In fact, the CDC thinks that in 2016 alone, there were really over 41,000 new cases of acute HCV and over three million living with the chronic form of the virus. The number of new, short-term HCV cases has been on the rise in recent years, and may be related to the opioid epidemic since HCV is most commonly transmitted by intravenous drug use (sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia).2
In 2016, 42 states reported cases of chronic HCV, and almost 70% of these cases came from 11 states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois).2 For 2016, 61.4% of chronic HCV cases were in 15-54-year-olds, while over 38% were in those older than 55 years-old. Over 60% of chronic HCV cases from 2016 were males.2
Mother-to-infant transmission is the leading cause of HCV among children.6 This type of HCV transmission (sometimes also called "vertical transmission") can occur in anywhere from 4% to 7% of pregnancies in which the mother has HCV. The risk is higher for pregnant women with a higher viral load, or for women who also have HIV.3
Baby Boomers and hepatitis C
It has been estimated that Baby Boomers (those born between 1945-1965) are up to five times more likely to have HCV in comparison to other age groups. Many of these individuals may have had hepatitis C for years and not known it, especially if they haven’t had HCV-related symptoms in the past. It is not completely understood why Baby Boomers may have a higher prevalence of HCV, but it may be related to sharing needles, improperly sterilized medical equipment, receiving blood products that contained the virus, and more.7
However, it’s important to note that the annual number of new cases of HCV infection from blood transfusions dropped significantly after 1985, with the introduction of donor screening for HIV risk factors in the early 1990s and HCV blood screening procedures. The rate of new infections from blood transfusion is now nearly zero.3 If you are a Baby Boomer and are worried about your risk of having HCV, contact your doctor or healthcare provider to get tested.
Hepatitis C mortality
Overall, deaths from hepatitis C have been decreasing in recent years, and may be the result of new, effective treatment options like direct-acting antiviral medications. In 2016, the mortality rate for hepatitis C was 4.5 out of every 100,000 deaths. Despite death from HCV being on the decline, hepatitis C is still more likely to lead to death than hepatitis A or B. Individuals between 55 and 64 years-old and who are of American Indian/Alaskan Native descent are the most likely to experience mortality from hepatitis C. Additionally, men are over 2.5 times more likely to die from HCV than women.2 Despite these numbers, it’s important to remember that treatment options for hepatitis C have come a long way in recent years, with many having near-100% cure rates.