Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver diseases, including liver cancers and failure, and is related to at least 17,000 U.S. deaths annually. This is more than the annual number of HIV-related deaths. Between 3.2 million and 5.2 million Americans are living with hepatitis C virus (HCV), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which produces vital and health statistics for the nation.
Although treatment is available, hepatitis C is often referred to as a “silent killer.” Approximately 50 percent of people with the disease have no symptoms, until they are dangerous. Seventy-five percent of those infected with hepatitis C are baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1965.
Most baby boomers with hepatitis C became infected in the 1970s or 1980s when rates of exposure to the virus were at an all-time high. Many baby boomers could have received contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply began in the U.S. in 1992. Even now, nearly 20,000 Americans are infected with hepatitis C every year.
The CDC estimates hepatitis C-related deaths will double or triple in the next 15 to 20 years. Both CDC and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend offering a one-time screening for hepatitis C infection for baby boomers as a preventive service. Current testing methods are cost effective, readily available, minimally invasive and reliable.
Diagnosing people with hepatitis C will allow them to take advantage of new therapies that offer the highest cure rates yet against late-stage liver diseases. State policymakers are considering ways to increase awareness and screenings in key populations and in state-supported programs, including Medicaid and employee health insurance plans. Hepatitis C-related screening and treatment policies should include analyses of short- and long-term costs and savings potential. Policymakers also need to consider who should qualify to receive treatments and what the benefits to public health will be.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Viral Hepatitis, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
Sources: Calculated by NCSL using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Single Year of Age and Sex for the United States, States, and Puerto Rico Commonwealth: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013" Release Date: June 2014. *2010 Census, American FactFinder Table.
- Hepatitis C Overview
- NCSL Audioconference- Hepatitis C: The Fundamentals. Recorded July 25, 2014, 2-3pm ET. NCSL held an informational call to provide legislators and legislative staff with basic and fundamental information about the hepatitis C virus. Speakers included Guy W. Neff M.D., Medical Director of Hepatitis C at AbbVie and Coy A. Stout, Vice President of Managed Markets at Gilead Sciences provided information and answer questions.
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