Hepatitis C is a contagious disease of the liver that can range in severity from a mild illness lasting just a few weeks (acute infection) to a serious, lifelong illness (chronic disease) that attacks the liver.
Hepatitis C results from an infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV)-spread primarily via contact with the blood of an infected person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation. The CDC gets case reports electronically from state health departments for the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (NNDSS). However, the CDC qualifies the results with this caveat: “Data . . . should be interpreted with the consideration that reported cases of acute or chronic viral hepatitis represent only those relatively few infected persons who were detected, diagnosed, met a stringent case definition, and eventually reported to CDC in 2011”, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Historically, during the six years the CDC has received data on HCV, about 800 cases have been reported annually. There was, however, a “marked increase of 45% in reported acute HCV infections in 2011 compared with 2010”. The CDC maintains that this change is due to the rising number of HCV infections among adolescents and young adults who inject street drugs. The trend in body piercing may also be a factor. After adjusting for asymptomatic infections and under-reporting, the CDC estimated that 16,600 new HCV infections occurred in 2011.
Chronic HCV infection affects at least 3 million US residents. Since 2007, annual deaths from HCV have exceeded the number of deaths from HIV/AIDS in the United States. The HCV deaths occur most often in patients 45 to 65 years old.
You can learn how to manage your illness by reading about hepatitis C treatment options, prevention methods, and more.