Wellness

7 Numbers That Show The Fight Against Hepatitis Is Far From Over

Learn more about this "silent condition."
<p><span style="font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 20px; background-color: #eeeeee;">Dr. Joseph Bick, center, talks to Hepatitis C patient Richard Carreiro, as nurse Laura Escareno-Scarrott, watches in the hospice of the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif., Jan. 17, 2007. Bick, as chief medical office at the prison facility, sees many inmates with the deadly disease. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)</span></p>

Dr. Joseph Bick, center, talks to Hepatitis C patient Richard Carreiro, as nurse Laura Escareno-Scarrott, watches in the hospice of the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif., Jan. 17, 2007. Bick, as chief medical office at the prison facility, sees many inmates with the deadly disease. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, a sorely-needed awareness campaign for diseases that affect more than 400 million people alive today.

In the U.S., more people die from hepatitis C than they do from HIV/AIDS. And despite being preventable with vaccine, hepatitis B causes an estimated 1 million deaths every year and is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. Despite these shocking numbers, the virus is little understood and discussed, and that’s got to change, according to Dr. H. Nina Kim, director of the Madison HIV/Hepatitis Coinfection Clinic in Washington.

“In some ways, the HIV epidemic is tied really closely with the gay movement and very vocal patient advocacy arose from this demographic,” said Kim. “A lot of my patients have a sort of shame about hepatitis C; there are a lot of similarities with both chronic viral infections, but there isn’t the same kind of patient advocacy.”

Hepatitis types A through E get their names from the devastating effect on the liver (hēpar means “liver” in Greek), but the viruses aren’t related to each other, except when B occasionally leads to D. Perhaps what’s most frightening about these diseases is that despite their serious long-term consequences, many of those infected have no idea because they may not have symptoms.

“It’s a silent condition,” said Kim. “People aren’t really showing up very sick with this and so we miss it."

To acknowledge World Hepatitis Day, here are just a few of the numbers that shed light on a group of viruses that affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Scroll to the bottom for information about the different types.

3 Million

The number of people who have hepatitis C in the U.S. — an epidemic level, according to Kim. It's the most common type of hepatitis in the U.S., as well as the top reason for liver transplants in the U.S. Hepatitis A and B are vaccine-preventable and hepatitis E is mostly a problem in impoverished parts of in East and South Asia.

3 in 4

The number of people with hepatitis C who don’t even know they have the virus.

75 percent

The number of people with hepatitis C who were born between 1945 to 1965. Boomers are five times more likely to have the virus because this generation had higher rates of intravenous drug use during a time we didn’t know or understand very much about blood borne diseases. Another reason is that we didn’t start screening our blood supply for hepatitis C until 1989. Because of this, boomers should get tested for hepatitis C, says the Centers for Disease Control.
“A lot of people are getting older with their untreated hepatitis C infection... and a lot of people have cirrhosis,” said Kim. “If we continue not treating a lot of patients with this, we’re going to see a big wave of people showing up with more liver disease."

17,000

The number of estimated new hepatitis C cases in the U.S. every year. At this point, the most common way to get the virus is through sharing needles with injection drug users. Health care workers and babies born to moms with hepatitis C are also at risk, as are the sexual partners of people who have the virus.
“We’re still seeing lots of new infection, particularly in young injected drug users,” said Kim. “If you’ve been injecting drugs and not being careful about not sharing, you’re very likely to get a hepatitis C infection."

15 to 25 percent

The number of people who will “clear” hepatitis C from their systems without treatment, and without the risk of it coming back. What’s more likely, explains the CDC, is that the patient goes on to develop long-term hepatitis C, which can lead to liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer.

$100,000

The cost of a single round of treatment for Hepatitis C. The pills have to be taken for an average of 12 weeks, and each pill costs about $1,000. The cost for this newer, better generation of drugs (one has an effectiveness rate of over 95 percent), is wreaking havoc on the publicly-funded healthcare systems Medicare and Medicaid, causing the latter to restrict the treatment only to those who have advanced liver damage. Of course, the longer one goes without hepatitis C treatment, the higher the risks are for cirrhosis, which can develop into liver cancer, Kim says.
“From a medical standpoint, anyone who can get treatment should get treatment, but we’re dealing with the fact that we have this very costly medication," Kim said. “The only way you can get your insurance to pay for it is if you have [cirrhosis] or kidney failure.”

15,000

The number of people who will die of a hepatitis C-related disease in the U.S. In contrast, an estimated 13,713 people died of an AIDS-related illness in 2012. The two are often compared because their modes of transmission are very similar.
To protect yourself against hepatitis, make sure that you're properly vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. Everyone who was born between 1945 and 1965 should get tested for hepatitis C. Finally, to reduce the risk of contracting hepatitis C, never share needles with anybody, and protect yourself during sex.

Here are all the types of hepatitis

While hepatitis C is the most common type in the U.S., the numbers are very different worldwide. Hepatitis E, for instance is most common in developing countries where people have poor access to clean water and sanitation services, or places like refugee camps and areas that have been hit with natural disasters. Hepatitis B, while vaccine-preventable, is high in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia.

Learn more about the different types of hepatitis in the chart below:

Type Global Case Numbers Vaccine Cure Transmission Symptoms Long-term Risks
A 1.4 million cases annually. Yes. None, but most manage to clear the infection on their own. Contaminated food or water, some sex acts. Jaundice (yellow eyes and dark urine), abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and diarrhea. Usually there are none, but 10 to 15 percent will have recurring symptoms. A rare few will need a liver transplant.
B 240 million chronic cases, 4 million acute cases and 1 million deaths annually. Yes. None. While some medications can suppress the virus, they can't eradicate it. Mainly occurs from mother to infants at birth, contact with contaminated (like injection drug use), and unprotected sex. Headache, lack of appetite, muscle aches, joint pain and skin rash. But most with chronic Hepatitis B don't have any symptoms. Patients with chronic infections can develop cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer if untreated.
C 130 to 150 million chronic infections and 500,000 deaths annually. None. Yes, with cure rates of more than 95 percent. However, the cost of one round of treatment is almost $100,000. Contact with contaminated blood, mostly through blood transfusions before 1992 and injection drug use. Sexual transmission is rare. Itchy skin joint pain, abdominal pain, sore muscles, jaundice. Cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer if untreated.
D This affects about 5 percent of people with Hepatitis B. Yes (the Hepatitis B vaccine). None. While some medications can suppress the virus, they can't eradicate it. Contact with infected body fluid. It only occurs in those who already have Hepatitis B. Jaundice, joint pain, abdominal pain, lack of appetite. Cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer.
E 20 million infections, 3 million symptomatic cases and 56,600 deaths annually. Yes, but it's not widely available. None, but most manage to clear the infection on their own. Contaminated food or water, and a possibility of transmission from pork, boar and deer. Clay-colored stool, fever, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, joint pain. While most recover completely, the virus is extremely dangerous for pregnant women or those with existing liver disease.
Sources: WHO, WebMD, Healthline, Cleveland Clinic, CDC.
CORRECTION: Only Medicaid is restricting access to hepatitis drugs, not Medicare.

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