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Hepatitis Illnesses Hit Record Lows

Reported Illness from Hepatitis A, B, C Drops Dramatically, Says CDC

Drop in Hepatitis A

In 2005, the CDC got reports of 4,488 people ill with hepatitis A. That equals 1.5 cases per 100,000 people -- the lowest rate since the government began tracking hepatitis in 1966.

That compares to an average of 28,000 cases of acute hepatitis A reported each year from 1987-97.

Including the unreported cases, the CDC estimates 42,000 new cases of hepatitis A infection in 2005.

Starting in 1999, 17 states have recommended hepatitis A vaccination for all children. Those states saw a greater decline in reported childhood hepatitis A illness than other states.

The CDC now recommends the hepatitis A vaccine for all children age 12-23 months.

The hepatitis A vaccine is also recommended for people at high risk of contracting the disease (including men who have sex with men, people who use illegal drugs, people with chronic liver disease, and people traveling to countries where the hepatitis A virus is common).

Drop in Hepatitis B

In 2005, the CDC received reports of 5,494 people ill with hepatitis B. That translates to 1.8 cases per 100,000 people -- also a record low.

The CDC estimates there were 51,000 new cases of hepatitis B infection in the U.S. in 2005, including unreported cases.

The decline in hepatitis B started in the mid-1980s and incidence of the disease has dropped an estimated 80% since 1991, when the U.S. government launched an effort to curb it.

The greatest drop in hepatitis B cases occurred in children less than 15 years old. Those kids were in the first generation of children for whom universal vaccination against hepatitis B was recommended.

Drop in Hepatitis C

Wasley explains that the CDC only began tracking hepatitis cases that weren't hepatitis A or B in 1982. Many of those combined cases were likely due to hepatitis C.

The CDC began tracking hepatitis C separately in 1995, when a reliable test for hepatitis C antibodies became widely available, Wasley says.

Reported cases of people ill with hepatitis C have dropped steadily since peaking in the late 1980s.

There is no hepatitis C vaccine. The drop in reported cases of hepatitis C is likely due to a decline in needle sharing among intravenous (IV) drug users, according to the CDC.

IV drug use was the most common risk factor among the 671 hepatitis C cases reported to the CDC in 2005.

"For hepatitis C, the majority of people with new infections are asymptomatic," Wasley says. "We have a relatively small number of symptomatic cases that we identify, but there are many, many other asymptomatic infections that are occurring at the same time."

The CDC estimates there were about 20,000 new cases of hepatitis C infection in the U.S. in 2005, including unreported cases.

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