AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new study published Tuesday in the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report suggests less than a third of adults with hepatitis C receive treatment for the curable disease.
Hepatitis C is liver inflammation caused by a viral infection that spreads via blood. Usually, modern sanitation and sterilization practices prevent the spread, but lax procedures allow it to perpetuate. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, unlike for hepatitis A and B.
According to the CDC’s estimates, roughly two million adults in the U.S. have hepatitis C, and the virus contributes to 14,000 deaths annually. In Texas, 2019 data shows only 0.2 people per 100,000 have the virus.
The cure for hepatitis C is eight to 12 weeks of taking a pill, and the CDC said the cure rate is 90%. However, these pills can be expensive, which creates a barrier to patients seeking treatment.
“Everyone with hepatitis C should have access to lifesaving treatment, regardless of race, ethnicity, age or insurance status,” said CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Debra Houry in a press release. “We must reduce the barriers and get more people treated for hepatitis C in our country. This is critical to stop preventable deaths and prevent new infections.”
Among insured people the rate of seeking treatment is slightly better than the average at 35%, but for those on Medicaid and Medicare the rates are 23% and 28% respectively.
“Removing barriers to treatment is a critical step, as is increasing screening for hepatitis C. We estimate about 40% of people with hepatitis C in the U.S. are unaware of their infection — testing is the first step to accessing curative treatment,” said Dr. Carolyn Wester, director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis.