Experts are “cautiously encouraged” by the slight decrease in new U.S. hepatitis C (HCV) cases following more than a decade of steady increases, health officials told The Associated Press (AP).


Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 2022 showed a 6% decline in HCV cases, which could indicate either the start of a downward trend or a statistical blip, AP reports.


HCV is a contagious but curable blood-borne disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. If left untreated, HCV can cause lifelong infection, liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure and death.


It’s estimated that 2.4 million Americans are living with chronic HCV (about 1% of the adult population), according to the CDC. What’s more, nearly 15,000 people died of HCV in 2020, and acute HCV cases quadrupled from 2009 to 2019. Experts partly attribute the steady increase in new cases to the opioid epidemic.


“We’ve had a decade of bad news.... I am cautiously encouraged,” Daniel Raymond, director of policy at the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, told the AP. “You always want to hope [that] something like this is real, and a potential sign that the tide has turned.”


The CDC reported 4,848 new HCV cases in 2022 compared with 5,023 in 2021. Many people with HCV are unaware they have the virus, which means most new cases are not diagnosed or reported. As a result, the CDC estimates about 67,000 new HCV cases actually occurred in 2022, a decrease from an estimated 70,000 in 2021.


HCV is most easily transmitted through direct blood-to-blood contact. Some transmission routes include:


  • Sharing needles and other drug injection equipment;
  • Sexual contact;
  • Mother-to-child
  • Shared personal items (razors, toothbrushes, etc.);
  • Tattoos and piercings with nonsterile equipment.


Some experts cite the decrease in HCV cases to successful prevention efforts and syringe exchange programs. Because most syringe exchange programs also offer referrals to treatment, they help reduce substance use and overdose deaths. In fact, syringe exchange programs are associated with an estimated 50% reduction in HCV and HIV incidence, according to the CDC.


Increased screening may also help account for the decrease in new U.S. cases, which are rising most rapidly among people ages 20 to 39. For this reason, the CDC updated its recommendation guidelines to encourage all adults ages 18 and older to be screened for HCV at least once in their lifetime. It previously recommended universal screening only for baby boomers (individuals born between 1945 and 1965).


HCV is now easily curable with direct-acting antivirals, so it’s important for people living with the virus to learn their status so they can get timely care and treatment.


To read the full CDC report, click here.


To read more, click #Hepatitis C or Hep Magazine’s Health Basics on Hepatitis C. It reads in part:


Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, so the best ways to prevent hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and its complications are avoiding exposure, timely testing and prompt treatment. 


Knowing your HCV status is the first step toward treatment and a cure, which eliminates the virus so you can’t pass it on. Guidelines recommend that all adults should be tested for HCV at least once, and those at ongoing risk should be tested regularly. 


Here are some HCV prevention tips:


  • Not injecting drugs would eliminate the most common route of HCV transmission. If you do inject drugs, use a new sterile syringe and other equipment every time. In addition to syringes, HCV can be transmitted via cookers, water and other injection supplies.
  • Obtain new needles and supplies from a syringe exchange or distribution program.
  • If you must share syringes, cleaning them thoroughly with bleach may reduce the risk of HCV transmission, but not as much as using new ones.
  • Do not share non-injection drug equipment, such as straws or pipes.
  • Do not share toothbrushes, razors or other personal care items that could have come in contact with blood.
  • If you are considering a tattoo or body piercing, have it done by a reputable, licensed professional who follows hygiene procedures and uses sterile equipment.
  • Condoms can reduce the risk of HCV transmission during sex, but they do not offer complete protection.
  • If you have hepatitis C, cover any cuts or wounds. Clean blood on surfaces with a bleach solution or other effective disinfectant.