Deaths Linked to Hepatitis C Hit All-Time High in 2014 Says CDC
Baby boomers still make up the largest patient population, but new cases involving young IV drug users are also on the rise
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 3.5 million people are infected with hepatitis C and roughly half are completely unaware.
Deaths associated with the disease in 2014 hit an all-time high of more than 19,600 people, but the CDC believes that the number is actually higher as deaths from hepatitis C are underreported.
While modern medicine now has rules and safety procedures in place to prevent disease transmission, this hasn't always been the case. Baby boomers make up the largest population of hepatitis C patients because they became infected during medical procedures before these safety checks went into place.
Data also found that there is a new wave of infections among injection drug users. According to the CDC, acute cases of hepatitis C infection have more than doubled since 2010, increasing to nearly 2,200 reported cases in 2014. Instead of older adults, these new cases are mainly seem in young, white men and women with a history of injection drug use, living in rural and suburban areas of the Midwest and Eastern U.S.
Hepatitis C has very few noticeable symptoms allowing people to unknowingly live with the disease for years, or even decades before it is discovered. Without diagnoses and treatment, patients increasingly develop liver cancer and other life-threatening related diseases. Just as damaging, those unknowingly infected can pass on the disease to other people.
"Once hepatitis C testing and treatment are as routine as they are for high cholesterol and colon cancer, we will see people living the long, healthy lives they deserve," the CDC's Jonathan Mermin said in a written statement. Mermin is the director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
Prevention for future cases and screening for current cases are expected to lower the number of deaths associated with the disease. The CDC recommends one-time hepatitis C testing for everyone born between 1945 and 1965 and regular testing for others at high risk.
For IV drug users, the CDC recommends prevention programs that include regular testing for hepatitis C and B, and HIV, as well as rapid links to medical care for those who test positive, access to substance abuse treatment, sterile injection equipment and other services.
More information can be found here.