Hepatitis C Remains Major Health Threat
The American Liver Foundation Urges Cautious Optimism about CDC Report on Declining Acute Hepatitis Infection Rates
Focus Must Remain on the Millions Still Suffering from Chronic Hepatitis B and C
NEW YORK, March 21 /PRNewswire/ — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that significant decline in the rates of new acute hepatitis infections in the United States in the last 10 years, reflecting the success of hepatitis A and B vaccination programs. The American Liver Foundation wants to highlight these positive results, but remind people that chronic hepatitis B and C are very serious diseases that affect over five million Americans and that the prevalence of chronic hepatitis C infection is actually increasing. This is in response to the article “Surveillance for Acute Viral Hepatitis — United States, 2005,” published by the CDC in their publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Acute, or short-term, infections are more common with hepatitis A and B and less likely to cause serious health problems than a chronic, or long-term, infection. Hepatitis A does not cause chronic infections. Only five percent of all adults infected with hepatitis B develop chronic infection, although 90 percent of infants infected with hepatitis B do develop chronic hepatitis B. On the other hand, hepatitis C becomes a chronic infection for 70-80% percent of those exposed to the virus.
“I was very pleased to read this report about the decline in acute hepatitis infections,” said Dr. James Boyer, Chair of the Board of the American Liver Foundation and Director of the Liver Center at the Yale University Medical School. “But this good news must not let us forget the millions of Americans suffering with chronic hepatitis. Without diagnosis and treatment these people are in serious risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer. Much more work needs to be done to combat hepatitis in this country.”
With nearly two percent of Americans infected with the hepatitis C virus, the costs of this disease to the health care system is severe. A study conducted in 2002 estimated total medical expenditures for people with hepatitis C at $15 billion per year. The projected direct and indirect costs of hepatitis C, if infection rates do not continue to drop significantly, will be $85 billion for the years 2010-2019 as the number of people chronically infected will continue to increase.
Facts about hepatitis
- There are five distinct types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E. All cause inflammation of the liver
- The hepatitis B virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV
- It is estimated that there are 1.4 million Americans with chronic hepatitis B
- Hepatitis B and C can lead to liver cancer
- There are vaccines for hepatitis A and B. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C
- Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States
- Almost 4 million Americans, or 1.8 percent of the U.S. population, are or have been infected with hepatitis C
- Recent studies suggest that approximately 40 percent of the 2.2 million people in America’s prison system are infected with hepatitis C
About the American Liver Foundation
The American Liver Foundation is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization promoting liver health and disease prevention. ALF provides research, education and advocacy for those affected by liver-related diseases including hepatitis. Please visit the American Liver Foundation’s Web site at http://www.liverfoundation.org/