Reports of new hepatitis C infections in the United States almost tripled over five years, reaching a 15-year high, federal government data show. Further, limited surveillance resources have led to underreporting, meaning the annual number of hepatitis C virus cases reported to CDC (850 cases in 2010 and 2,436 cases in 2015) does not reflect the true scale of the epidemic.
Newborns cannot be tested for Hepatitis C so they must be followed for 18 months until doctors can determine if they've been infected.
Infections are growing fastest among Americans in their 20s, because of injection drug use, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We are really going to have to ask as a society if and how we are going to do what needs to be done here to deal with it". Chronic infection can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.
"People shouldn't think they're safe from hepatitis C just because they're not injecting drugs", Meyer said. But they are expensive - a course of treatment can costs tens of thousands of dollars.
Mortality associated with hepatitis C has increased among 55- to 64-year-olds from 2006 to 2010 and represents half of deaths linked to the virus. The CDC warns that the number of infected people is much higher, mainly because symptoms are not always obvious and not everyone receives a timely diagnosis.
Senior author and TDH Medical Director for HIV, STD & Viral Hepatitis Carolyn Wester, M.D, said the increase highlights the importance of ensuring that women of childbearing age have access to hepatitis C testing and treatment. It really requires a comprehensive public health approach.
"They've been screened and found to be Hep C positive", Vemuri said. If you have the disease and need help, you can contact the Bellflower clinic.
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"But once it starts producing systems, there's unfortunately, in most individuals, there's an inexorable march towards liver failure", Vemuri said. "Recent surveillance data showed increased rates of HCV infection among adolescents and adults who are predominantly white, live in nonurban areas, and have a history of injection drug use", they write.
Before widespread screening of blood donations began in 1992, the virus was also spread through blood transfusions.
Experts warn the surge in infections mirrors the rising number of people injecting drugs amid the nationwide opioid epidemic.
However, the majority (three-quarters) of the 3.5 million Americans already living with hepatitis C are baby boomers born from 1945 to 1965.
Hepatitis C is often curable - new medications are successful on roughly nine out of 10 patients.
"That's one of the things we are seeing more commonly in drug use or our drug related deaths".
However, it is not only drug users that can be infected.