Hepatitis C by the Numbers

Learn key facts illustrating the impact of hepatitis C.

doctor explaining hepatitis c to patient

Updated on November 13, 2023.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation in the liver. Left untreated, it can lead to a number of serious complications that affect liver function, including a severe scarring of the liver called cirrhosis, as well as liver cancer and liver failure. Sometimes the disease is short-lived (acute), and sometimes it becomes a long-term (chronic) condition.

People contract hepatitis C by being exposed to the blood of an infected person. Most infections today are spread by sharing drug equipment—especially needles and syringes. Hepatitis C may also spread through getting tattoos or piercings using non-sterile instruments and by sharing personal items that may contain infected blood, such as nail clippers, razors, glucose monitors, and toothbrushes. Babies born to infected mothers can also develop hepatitis C, and it can be passed along by having sex with someone who is infected, though these cases are less common. Hepatitis C is not spread through breastmilk, insect bites, water, or food. 

Most hepatitis C cases are asymptomatic, meaning people with infections show no noticeable signs. Symptoms of chronic illness can take decades to appear, in fact, and may only manifest when liver function is affected.

Unlike with hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Some people may clear the infection without treatment. However, there are oral treatments that can cure it in most cases within two or three months. 

Hepatitis C facts and figures

Here are a few key statistics and figures that illustrate the impact hepatitis C has worldwide, as well as important information about screening and treatment.

2 million: Though exact numbers are hard to pin down, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 2 million people in the United States are living with hepatitis C. 

40 percent: The proportion of U.S. adults infected with hepatitis C who are not aware that they have it.

58 million: The number of people worldwide estimated to be living with a chronic hepatitis C infection, according to the World Health Organization.

15,000: The number of deaths caused in part or wholly by hepatitis C in the U.S. in 2020.

Less than 50 percent: The percentage of people who clear the infection from their bodies without getting treatment. 

More than 50 percent: The share of people infected who will develop a chronic infection—an infection that will not go away without treatment. Infections that do not become chronic are called acute and resolve on their own.

69,800: The estimated number of acute cases of hepatitis C in the U.S. in 2021, according to the CDC. In 2011, the number was drastically lower—17,100. Each year since 2011, the number of acute cases has risen.

6 percent: The number of babies who will be born with a hepatitis C infection if their mother has the virus. 

18 and up: The starting age for hepatitis C screening, according to the CDC. In the past, the baby boomer generation (born from 1945 to 1965) was the most at-risk group for chronic infection. Now, millennials (born from 1981 to 1996) have surpassed baby boomers. Generation X (born from 1964 to 1980) is third. Part of the reason for this is the opioid epidemic and the rise in intravenous drug usage.

100 percent of pregnancies: The CDC recommends getting tested for the virus during each pregnancy, to reduce the risk of passing it along to the infant. 

7 genotypes: Genotypes are different strains of the hepatitis C virus. There are seven main genotypes, which can be further classified with letters (for example, subtypes 1a and 1b). Different genotypes are more common in different regions of the world. Tests to determine genotype may be another step in diagnosis, as certain treatments are more effective at treating different genotypes.

20 percent: The percentage of people with chronic hepatitis C who will develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years.

95 percent: Hepatitis C infection is treated with a class of drugs called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). This approach cures about 95 percent of infections in most groups. Cured means the infection cannot be detected in the blood three months after treatment ends. To have the best chance of successfully clearing the virus, a treatment plan must be followed exactly.

1 in 3: Only about one out of every three people with insurance get treatment for hepatitis C within a year of being diagnosed. This is for a number of reasons, among them lack of access to care, cost of treatment, and insurance issues. 

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, it is important to seek treatment under the guidance of a healthcare provider. Treatment can reduce the risk of complications. And everyone should be tested at least once in their adult life for hepatitis C—more often if you have risk factors.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C. Page last reviewed April 11, 2023. 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public. Page last reviewed July 28, 2020. 
World Health Organization. Hepatitis C. Page accessed September 19, 2023. 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C: By the Numbers. Page last reviewed February 6, 2023. 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Newsroom: Transcript: Hepatitis C Briefing. Last reviewed May 30, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral Hepatitis: Hepatitis C Surveillance 2021. Last reviewed August 19, 2022.
Pockros PJ. Update on the Treatment of Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Patients With Cirrhosis. Gastroenterol Hepatol (NY). 2019 Nov;15(11):616-618. 
Maness DL, Riley E, Studebaker E. Hepatitis C: Diagnosis and Management. American Family Physician. 2021;104(6):626-635.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professionals. Page last reviewed August 7, 2020.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease: Classification of Direct-Acting Antiviral Agents in HCV Treatment Regimens. Accessed November 13, 2023.
Holmes JA, Rutledge SM, Chung RT. Direct-acting antiviral treatment for hepatitis C. The Lancet. 2019;393(10179):1392-1394.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital Signs: Too Few People Treated for Hepatitis C. Updated September 21, 2022.

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