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New hepatitis C infections in the US reach a 15-year high

Over just five years, the number of new hepatitis C virus infections reported to CDC has nearly tripled, reaching a 15-year high. But specialists warn the numbers do not reflect the true scale of the epidemic as most cases go unreported.

The Center for Disease Control warns that over just five years, the number of new hepatitis C infections reported has nearly tripled, reaching a 15-year high. But what makes doctors worried is the fact that the new numbers, although high, do not reflect the true scale of the epidemic and there are indications that spread of the disease could be much greater.

As hepatitis C has few symptoms, CDC reckons that half of the cases go unreported, people living with their condition without being diagnosed. Under-reporting of cases also stems from limited surveillance resources.

Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious diseases. And while mortality is high for patients over 55-years old, the experts are very concerned about the sudden spread of the disease among younger Americans. The most recent data show that the highest overall number of new infections among 20 to 29-year-olds and according to the CDC this is largely caused by injection drug use and especially the growing of the opioid epidemic.

Over the next three years, the CDC has adopted an action plan that aims to reduce the number of new infections by 60% but there are ongoing needs to implement policies that can prevent infection, determine a better rate of diagnosis and provide treatment. One of the challenges will be of informing and treating patients most vulnerable to hepatitis C.

One of the goals of the new strategy is to make treatment and preventive measures available for drug users and also prevent mother to child transmissions of the virus.

The United States is not the only country battling hepatitis C. It is estimated that 71 million people in the world have chronic hepatitis C infection with almost 400.000 deaths being registered each year due to this infection. Hepatitis C can be found worldwide but countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and European Regions have a higher prevalence.

According to the World Health Organization, people most vulnerable to hepatitis C infection are injection and intranasal drug users, recipients of infected blood products or invasive procedures in health-care facilities with inadequate infection control practices, children born to mothers that already have the infection, people with HIV infection, prisoners or ex-prisoners and people who have had tattoos or piercings.

Sylvia Jacob