The first study of hepatitis C infection among different Hispanic groups in the U.S. has found that infection with the virus varies widely, with Puerto Rican Hispanics much more likely than other groups to be infected. The study, led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, highlights which Hispanic populations would benefit most from increased hepatitis C testing and treatment.
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that primarily affects the liver and is caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus is usually spread through contact with the blood of an infected person, often from sharing needles to inject drugs. Many people were also infected through blood transfusions before testing of donated blood began in 1992. About 150 million people worldwide are now infected with hepatitis C, including three to four million in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of infected people don’t know they’re infected, since it may take decades for the virus to cause liver damage severe enough to cause symptoms.
“Until now, national health surveys that assessed hepatitis C’s prevalence among U.S. Hispanics have looked only at Mexican-Americans,” said Mark Kuniholm, Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology & population health at Einstein. “As a result, no one knew whether the rates were higher or lower in other Hispanic populations. It turns out that there’s a dramatic variation in prevalence, with infection rates ranging from less than 1 percent in Hispanic men of South American or Cuban background to 11.6 percent in men of Puerto Rican background – a more than 10-fold difference. This suggests that it’s not appropriate to lump all U.S. Hispanics into a single, broad at-risk group.”