Millennials are now the fastest-growing group infected with hepatitis C, an infectious disease that attacks the liver. It is estimated that 3.5 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Most people with hepatitis C don’t know they carry the virus because the infection tends to be asymptomatic.”
“Since 2006, the number of new hepatitis C infections has been rising among people under 30,” says Dr. Walid Ayoub, interim medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Liver Transplant Program. “The opioid epidemic and injectable drug use are major causes for this hepatitis C explosion among millennials.”
How hepatitis C is spread
Hepatitis C is spread through the blood. According to the CDC, needle sharing is the largest contributor to the spread of the virus.
Dr. Ayoub advises limiting exposure to the virus by not sharing needles and other personal items such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, or glucose meters.
The key is getting screened for the virus and working with your doctor on the right treatment as early as possible.
Though sexual transmission of hepatitis C sexually is not as common, Dr. Ayoub recommends that patients get tested for the virus if they are engaging in sex with multiple partners.
Why get tested?
Hepatitis C is usually curable—but to treat it, you first have to know you have it.
“Hepatitis C is a very treatable and curable disease now,” says Dr. Ayoub. “We have oral medication that can lead to a cure more than 95% of the time, with as short as 8 weeks of therapy and minimal side effects. But most people with hepatitis C don’t know they carry the virus because the infection tends to be asymptomatic.”
If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to lasting liver damage—including cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease. The key is getting screened for the virus and working with your doctor on the right treatment as early as possible.