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Hepatitis C Kills More People Than HIV Infection

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD

How many people die every year from the hepatitis C virus vs. HIV infection?

Most people, including doctors, would be crying out for help from science and the government if suddenly, a disease was found that was killing more people than HIV infections (19,368 vs 13,712 HIV deaths per year according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics for the US). Unfortunately, such a disease exists. It's called hepatitis C.

How do you get hepatitis C?

The CDC suggests the hepatitis C virus uses or has used several methods to infect people:

  • Drug use (especially IV with a shared needle) even if used only once many years ago
  • Receipt of donated blood, blood products, and organs before 1992 (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
  • Receipt of blood clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Needlestick injuries in health-care settings
  • Birth to a hepatitis C virus-infected mother
  • Sexual contact with someone with hepatitis C virus infection (infrequent)
  • Chronic hemodialysis
  • Contact with blood from someone with hepatitis C (infrequent, but may occur sharing razors or toothbrushes)

Unfortunately, people with hepatitis C virus may inadvertently infect others because they may not realize they are infective as they undergo the many years of "silent" damage that can occur between initial infection and symptom development such as liver problems,a jaundice, or cirrhosis.

Why do so many people in the US have hepatitis C?

Like the slow, silent serial killers found in society, the hepatitis C virus has slowly and methodically infected many people. Initially people infected with hepatitis C do not realize they are infected with the hepatitis C virus until, for many individuals, the disease becomes untreatable and death is the outcome. However, serial killers in society are caught and stopped. Usually when their pattern of attacks are recognized and then publicized so people understand how to protect themselves from attack, or if being attacked, how to defend themselves. The killer, hepatitis C virus, is now better understood so that an initial outcry may be heard and heeded.

How many people in the US are infected with the hepatitis C virus?

Estimates from the CDC suggest that about 3.9 million people are infected with the hepatitis C virus, and that about 50% to 75% of these people (minimally, about 1.6 million people) are unaware they are infected with the virus. Most infected are men and women aged 45–64. However, white men comprise the largest group.

What are the largest populations that are "silently" infected with hepatitis C?

The largest populations of "silently" infected people are white males (and some females) between the ages of 45 and 64 as well as Blacks and Hispanics in the same age groups. These populations should be tested (screened) for infection with hepatitis C as soon as possible. Those of the highest priority to be tested are the individuals at increased risk according to the methods of spread listed above.

Can hepatitis C be cured?

Yes. About 25% of those people infected with the virus will spontaneously recover without medication. For those individuals who don't recover without medication, there are several antiviral drugs that are effective at ridding the body of the virus before enough damage has occurred to destroy the liver. Hepatitis C "cure" rates are reported to approach 100% ("cure" in this disease means no detectable virus in the person's blood).

What is the treatment for someone who cannot be cured of hepatitis C?

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