Cases of hepatitis C in the United States have nearly tripled within a five-year period, reaching a new 15-year high of around 34,000 new hepatitis C infections in 2015, federal health officials reported. Experts attribute the higher rates to more injection drug use during the ongoing opioid epidemic.
The new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that cases of the disease rose substantially, from 850 new cases in 2010 to 2,436 cases in 2015. However, because most people with hepatitis C do not know they have the disease and most new infections go undiagnosed, the CDC estimates there were actually 34,000 new infections in 2015.
The greatest number of new infections are among young people from ages 20 to 29, a spike the CDC says is due to higher use of injection drugs in the opioid epidemic. “We must reach the hardest-hit communities with a range of prevention and treatment services that can diagnose people with hepatitis C and link them to treatment,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a statement.
Most people living with hepatitis C are baby boomers, a population the CDC says is six times more likely to have an infection compared to other age groups. There are an estimated 3.5 million Americans living with hepatitis C, and the CDC reports that nearly 20,000 people died from the disease in 2015.