CHICAGO — The number of reported cases of hepatitis C, a viral condition that can infect the liver, increased over the past decade in Illinois, state health officials said.
The total number of reported cases of hepatitis C was up 43 percent from just under 6,890 in 2006 to nearly 9,840 in 2017, according to the Illinois health department.
"Many of the cases in individuals younger than 35 years of age have been linked to injection drug use," the department said in a news release. "The rise in hepatitis C cases corresponds with the opioid epidemic in Illinois."
Ahead of World Hepatitis Day, observed on July 28, officials are encouraging residents to find out if they should be tested for or vaccinated against hepatitis A, B, or C.
A highly transmissible illness, the viruses can be transmitted through bodily fluids, sex, or contaminated water. Nationally, new cases of hepatitis C have been increasing, mostly among those who inject drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2006, the CDC said 800 new cases of hepatitis C viruses were reported, a number that nearly quadrupled by 2016, when the number of new cases was roughly 2,970. The highest increases occurred among young residents of non-urban counties, the CDC says, especially in Appalachian states.
Approximately half of those with hepatitis C do not know they are infected, and though there is an increase in recent infections among younger people, 75 percent of those with hepatitis C were born in 1945-1965, state health department officials noted. Each year, the department said, hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver cancer, kills more Americans than any other infectious disease. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, according to the CDC, but new treatments can cure the condition.