More than 2.5 million Americans live with hepatitis C, a liver infection caused by the virus of the same name. Although hepatitis C affects people of all races and ethnicities, certain groups are disproportionately affected by the virus and develop complications like liver cancer.
People of Color make up a disproportionately
American Indian and Alaska Natives have a higher incidence rate of hepatitis C, along with the highest age-adjusted hepatitis C mortality rate among all other racial and ethnic groups.
Hispanic Americans get this virus at about the same rates as white Americans, but they have worse outcomes. They are more likely to have complications and to die from hepatitis C.
New antiviral treatments can cure hepatitis C and prevent complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer in most people who get them. But People of Color aren’t being offered treatments at the same rate as white people.
Read on to learn what we know about these disparities, along with what may help to address them.
Hepatitis C is
The highest rates of infection are among Black men in their 40s. The prevalence of hepatitis C in this group is almost
The rate of hepatitis C infections and deaths is also high in American Indians/Alaskan Natives. People in this group are over three times more likely to be diagnosed with the virus than non-Hispanic white people.
So why do more People of Color develop the infection, and why do they have worse outcomes? There are a few possible reasons for the disparities.
One reason is that People of Color are often not included in clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of new treatments. Only
Another cause may be systemic problems in People of Color receiving treatment for other chronic conditions, such as diabetes. One study found that Black Americans were
While they found multiple contributing factors leading to this ineligibility, uncontrolled diabetes and renal insufficiency were factors more prevalent in the Black study participants. The researchers note that “comprehensive strategies to provide effective medical care” for these conditions could reduce or remove this barrier for Black Americans.
A lack of access to testing and treatments for hepatitis C is another reason.
Black Americans who are at risk for hepatitis C are less likely to get tested than white people with the same risks. And African Americans who do test positive are less than half as likely as white Americans to be offered treatment or to receive it.
New hepatitis C treatments could help level the outcomes for People of Color, but only in those who get access to treatment. More than 90 percent of people from all races could be cured with direct-acting antiviral drugs. Still, many African Americans aren’t considered eligible for treatment.
Research indicates that there isn’t clinical evidence to support the idea that African Americans should be considered less eligible for treatment. Instead, the reduced access is likely the result of racial discrimination.
There may also be geographical barriers to access. One
However, people who don’t clear the virus develop chronic hepatitis C infection. Without treatment, they’re at higher risk for cirrhosis and other liver complications from the virus.
Even though Hispanic people have lower rates of hepatitis C than other groups, they’re
The Hispanic/Latino population has a diverse heritage. Some evidence suggests that a person’s country of origin affects both their chances of getting hepatitis C and their outcome. For this reason, it’s important that more research is done to understand how country of birth, country of heritage, or other factors may impact hepatitis C risks and outcomes.
Researchers can help to reduce disparities by including more People of Color in hepatitis C research studies.
Doctors can ensure that their patients of color get screened and treated if they test positive.
There are also things you can do to protect yourself.
- You have HIV.
- You’ve injected drugs and shared needles or syringes.
- You’ve had a blood transfusion or organ transplant.
- You work in healthcare and were accidentally stuck with a needle.
- You’ve ever received dialysis.
New direct-acting antiviral medications are very effective at curing hepatitis C. If you do test positive and your doctor doesn’t recommend medication, ask for a second opinion to ensure that you get the treatment you need.