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Hepatitis C is the unknown, silent killer that is infecting millions of Americans and is more deadly than every other infectious disease combined, says a new government report.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that deaths associated with the disease reached an all-time high of 19,659 in 2014, surpassing the total combined number of deaths from 60 other infectious diseases, including HIV, pneumococcal disease, and tuberculosis.
But most sufferers don’t know they have it until it’s too late. About 3.5 million people in the U.S. are currently living with hepatitis C, but about half are unaware of it, according to the CDC.
Most people who have the disease are baby boomers who have been living with the disease unknowingly. Without treatment, hep C can cause liver cancer, liver disease, inflammation of the liver, and other hep C-related diseases.
Many baby boomers became infected with hep C because blood banks were not screening for the virus in the years after World War II as the virus that causes it had not yet been discovered, reports CBS News.
Hepatitis C can be transmitted through exchanging bodily fluids with an infected person – some common ways are through needles either used for drugs or tattoos, unprotected sex, or even toothbrushes or nail clippers, says The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The quickest rising segment of infected are young intravenous drug users, whose numbers have doubled since 2010, says CBS News.
However, if the disease is caught early, it is very curable, with rates as high as 90 percent after a 12-week regimen of anti-viral pills.
‘Once hepatitis C testing and treatment are as routine as they are for high cholesterol and colon cancer, we will see people living the long, healthy lives they deserve,’ said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention in a statement.
Hep C can be detected in a routine blood test.
The center recommends that anyone born between between 1945 and 1965 get a one time test, and those at high risk, including those who inject drugs, get tested more frequently.