Hepatitis C is a serious but common infection that can affect individuals of all ages and genders. Hepatitis C virus or HCV attacks the liver and can lead to long-term health problems, including liver cirrhosis, failure, or cancer.

Overall, the number of cases of hepatitis C infections is increasing. However, the rates differ by state, age group, biological sex, and a person’s race or ethnicity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report the incidence of hepatitis C virus as new cases per 100,000 people annually.

Keep reading to learn more about hepatitis C prevalence, including information about which populations are most at risk and statistics for the United States.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Hepatitis C infection rates differ by geography, age group, biological sex, and ethnicity.

Geography

In 2019, the national rate of acute hepatitis C was 1.3 reported cases per 100,000 population. Indiana had the highest reported rate of acute hepatitis C infection — 4.8 cases per 100,000 population.

Seven states, including Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and California, had the highest number of reported acute cases and accounted for over 50% of the national burden of acute hepatitis C that year.

Age

Rates of reported acute hepatitis C have increased across all age groups 20 years and older since 2010.

The 20–29 years age group in 2019 reported 2.9 cases per 100,000 population, while those in the 30–39 age group reported 3.2.

Sex

Since 2012, males have had repeatedly higher acute hepatitis C infection rates than females. For example, in 2019, males had 1.6 reported cases per 100,000 population, while females had 1.0 reported cases per 100,000 population.

Race and ethnicity

In 2019, acute hepatitis C infection rates ranged from 0.2 cases per 100,000 population of Asian and Pacific Islander persons to 3.6 cases per 100,000 population of Native American and Alaska Native people. Incidence rates for other races and ethnicities in 2019, were:

  • Black, non-Hispanic: 0.7 cases per 100,000 population
  • White, non-Hispanic: 1.4 cases per 100,000 population
  • Hispanic: 0.6 cases per 100,000 population

People who inject drugs

People who inject drugs are at high risk of acquiring hepatitis C. The number of new cases in this group of people among those aged 18–40 years has shown to increase steadily since 2013. The latest figures from 2019 indicate there are 2.8 cases per 100,000 population.

As a result, the government is attempting to reduce these rates by 2025. However, a reduction of 39.3% from the 2019 figures is necessary to meet the 2025 goal of 1.7 cases per 100,000 population.

Healthcare facilities

Between 2008–2019, there were 43 total outbreaks of hepatitis C in healthcare settings. This includes two outbreaks of both hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus.

The majority — 22 — of these outbreaks occurred in the hemodialysis setting, resulting in 104 cases of hepatitis C infection. Other outbreaks — 16 — occurred in outpatient and long-term care facilities, resulting in 134 cases of hepatitis C infection.

The remaining four outbreaks occurred due to drug diversion or misuse of prescription drugs issued to people with hepatitis C, which resulted in 90 cases.

The hepatitis C virus spreads through blood-to-blood contact. It most commonly transmits through sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Therefore, people who use injection drugs or have used them in the past are at risk for this disease.

“Baby boomers,” which refers to individuals born between 1945–1965, are 5 times more likely to have hepatitis C than others. An overwhelming majority — 75% — of adults living with hepatitis C were born during these two decades.

Doctors do not fully understand the reason for this high rate. However, it could be due to receiving infected blood products before the widespread screening began in 1992 or engaging in behaviors that may have harmful outcomes.

People can carry the virus for years before symptoms appear. Therefore it can be challenging for doctors to determine how or when the individual contracted the virus.

Hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral blood infection that spreads through blood-to-blood contact.

Experts estimate that around 2.4 million people live with the condition, but the actual number could be as high as 4.7 million. More than half of these individuals do not have symptoms, and they do not realize they have the infection.

Since 2006, these figures have been rising, particularly among those under age 30 who inject drugs such as opioids.

The hepatitis C virus can cause acute or chronic infection. In acute hepatitis C, the infection is short term, with symptoms lasting 6 months or less. In some cases, an individual can clear the infection and is no longer positive.

That said, around 50–80% of people with acute hepatitis C go on to develop chronic infection. This form of hepatitis is a long lasting infection that the body cannot fight off. As a result, chronic hepatitis C can cause chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer without appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

In 2018, doctors recorded 3,261 cases of acute hepatitis C in the U.S. However, many individuals do not seek treatment, and their cases go unreported. Therefore, the adjusted figure that takes this into consideration is 50,300 cases. The number of reported acute hepatitis C cases increased threefold between 2009–2018, with the highest rates in individuals aged 20–29 years.

In the same year, they also recorded a total of 137,713 new chronic hepatitis C cases, with a 63.1% majority being male. Most cases were among people in the age groups 20–39 and 50–69 years, with baby boomers accounting for 36.3% of new cases.

According to the latest Viral Hepatitis Surveillance report from 2019, Indiana had the highest reported incidence rate — 4.8 per 100,000 persons.

The following table shows the number of reported cases of acute hepatitis C per 100,000 people for U.S. states in 2019 that have a high prevalence of this condition.

StateNumber of reported casesIncidence rate (per 100,000 population)
Indiana3254.8
West Virginia794.4
Utah1274.0
South Dakota283.2
Maine433.2
Tennessee2023.0
Kentucky1282.9
Florida6162.9
Ohio2812.4
Massachusetts1612.3

Except for Kentucky, the infection rates in the above states are higher than in the previous reported year.

In addition, there may be wide fluctuations in annual incidence rates due to resource limitations and the actual number of reported cases in certain states or jurisdictions.

Hepatitis B is considerably more common than hepatitis C affecting over 292 million people worldwide. It also causes more liver-related cancer and deaths than hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B is 5–10 times more infectious than hepatitis C.

Various strains of the hepatitis virus exist, but there are five main types, including A, B, C, D, and E. Individuals usually contract hepatitis A and E by consuming contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C, and D typically occur through contact with infected bodily fluids.

Hepatitis B and C can lead to chronic disease and are common causes of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

Learn about the different types of hepatitis here.

Hepatitis C is a serious infection that can lead to liver failure and liver cancer. People can acquire it from blood-to-blood contact with someone who has the infection. Therefore, people most at risk are those who inject drugs.

Rates differ by state, biological sex, age, and race or ethnicity. In general, rates of infection are increasing across all groups and locations.