Hepatitis C Statistics

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is the most common bloodborne infection in the US. An estimated 4.1 million people in the US are infected with HCV (1.6% of the population), of whom 3.2 million have chronic infection.1,2 HCV infection can be asymptomatic, so it is possible to have HCV and not know it. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that at least 50% of those who have HCV are not yet diagnosed. HCV is the leading cause of liver transplant and a common cause of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). 3,4

The number of new cases per year

The number of new cases of HCV infection per year in the US has fallen dramatically from a high in the 1980s of about 230,000 to the current level of approximately 17,000. Since HCV is most commonly transmitted by intravenous drug use (sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia), this decrease may have been due to changes in practices by injection drug users that came about in response to the AIDS epidemic. 5

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. 5

Mother-to-infant HCV transmission

Mother-to-infant transmission is the leading cause of HCV among children. This type of HCV transmission (sometimes also called vertical transmission) accounts for up to 4,000 new cases of HCV in the US each year.6

An increase in new cases among young adults

Even though there has been an overall drop in the numbers of new HCV infections since the 1980s, there is evidence that rates of new infections may be rising among young adults. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for 2002 to 2009 showed an increase in newly reported HCV infections among adolescences and young adults (ages 15 to 24 years). The most common risk factor accounting for these new infections was injection drug use. 7

Based on data from the CDC for 2010, rates of new infections are currently highest among young adults 20 to 29 years of age, followed by adults 30 to 39 years of age. 3 Another group in which rates of HCV infection are high is the adult prison population. An estimated 16% to 41% of adult prison inmates test positive for HCV and 12% to 35% have chronic HCV infection. 8

NHANES results shed light on the prevalence

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large ongoing national survey conducted by the CDC and other government health agencies to assess the health status of adults and children in the US, examined HCV prevalence. Analysis of NHANES results from 2003 to 2010 found that HCV infection was most common among people who were born between 1945 and 1964. Additionally, men were more likely than women to have HCV, as were those who reported heavier alcohol use, a history of injection drug use, and a history of blood transfusion before 1992. The study also found that rates of HCV infection were highest among 9:

The burden of HCV

Even though many cases of HCV infection are asymptomatic, the long-term impact of HCV is significant because chronic infection eventually develops in about 80% of cases. Up to 20% of these chronically infected individuals will develop cirrhosis over a 20- to 30-year period. Some individuals will develop liver cancer. Both of these conditions are associated with significant health costs. A recent study estimated total health costs associated with HCV for the year 2011 at $6.5 billion. These costs are projected to peak at $9.1 billion in 2024, with the majority of expenditures associated with care for advanced liver diseases. Lifetime medical costs for individuals with HCV were estimated at approximately $65,000 (2011 dollars). However, with expected rates of inflation in medical care, lifetime individual health costs could exceed $200,000 by the year 2025.10

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: March 2015.
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