Today Is National Hepatitis Testing Day
It’s a good time to get tested for hepatitis B and hepatitis C— especially since the CDC just announced that new hepatitis C cases have gone up 294% between 2010-2015.
Injection drug use is now the primary risk factor for new hepatitis C (HCV) infection, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report last Friday. And new HCV infection is highest among “young persons who inject drugs.”
It’s worth noting that higher rates of new HCV infections tend to coincide with states that saw a statistically significant rise in fatal drug overdoses in recent years.
In its report the CDC suggested that public health initiatives like needle exchange programs could help reduce the rates of HCV transmission: “To promote HCV prevention, state laws can facilitate access to clean injection equipment, and other services for persons who inject drugs and, thereby be an effective tool to reduce the risk for transmission and stop the increasing incidence of HCV infection in communities, particularly those most affected by the nation’s current opioid epidemic.”
According to the agency, very few states currently have policies in place that effectively address rising HCV rates.
The hepatitis C virus is transmitted by blood, and can cause acute or chronic infection. Acute HCV infection is rarely life-threatening. According to the World Health Organization, in some people the virus can disappear without any treatment.
But chronic HCV infection affects the majority (55-85%) of people infected with the virus. These individuals are at higher risk for cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
About 71 million people worldwide live with chronic HCV infection. In the U.S., the number of people living with chronic HCV is 3.5 million.
But health officials say this number is likely much higher. “Most people do not know they are infected, because people don’t really feel ill until the disease is very advanced,” Dr. John Ward, director of the CDC division of viral hepatitis, told CNN last year.
Hepatitis C is the most common viral hepatitis in the country. In 2013, it accounted for 19,000 deaths. According to the WHO, an estimated 399,000 people worldwide die from HCV every year.
According to the CDC, HCV is associated with more deaths in the U.S. than 60 other infections diseases combined.
Learn more about National Hepatitis Testing Day.