The number of hepatitis C-related deaths in the United States will triple during the next 10 years, with as many as 30,000 Americans dying annually from problems caused by the disease, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Wall Street Journal reports that about 8,000 to 10,000 Americans already die each year from the disease. CDC officials say that many of the people dying from hepatitis C-related complications contracted the virus between the 1960s and the 1980s. Because the virus typically lies dormant in the body for many years, those infected with HCV in the 1990s or later will begin to experience symptoms in the next decade.
HCV, a blood-borne virus, is transmitted through shared needles and blood transfusions, and less commonly through unprotected sex. HCV is a common coinfection among HIV-positive people, with as many as 25% of all HIV patients also infected with hepatitis. As many as 5 million Americans are currently infected with HCV; worldwide, there are an estimated 200 million people with hepatitis C. There is no vaccine to prevent HCV infections, and current treatments are effective for only about half of those patients who take them. New treatments currently in clinical trials might offer better results, experts say, but those drugs are still years away from Food and Drug Administration review and approval.