Hepatitis C Doesn't Affect All Latinos Equally: Puerto Ricans Infected 10 Times More

A new study shows that within the U.S. Latino community, some are much more likely to be infected than others with the virus that causes Hepatitis C.

According to the study, led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Puerto Ricans are over 10 times more likely to become ill with the virus than men and women from other Hispanic backgrounds.

While 12 percent of people from Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican descent are infected, the rate drops sharply when it comes to Mexicans (2 percent), Dominicans (1.5 percent) and Central Americans (1 percent).

Less than 1 percent of South Americans and Cubans suffer from the disease.

The overall prevalence of Hepatitis C among men and women in the U.S. is 1.3 percent, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

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"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 and population health at Albert Einstein College.

"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,” Kuniholm added, noting this is the first study of Hepatitis C infection conducted among different Hispanic groups in the U.S.

The researchers said it is not clear, however, what’s behind this wild variation among Hispanics of Puerto Rican background, compared with other Hispanics.

It is estimated that 150–200 million people, or 3 percent of the world's population, currently live with chronic Hepatitis C, including three to four million in the U.S.

According the World Health Organization, around four million people contract Hepatitis C and approximately 350,000 die from it yearly.

The liver disease can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong condition that can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person. While Hepatitis C can be treated using antiviral medicines, no vaccine for it has yet been developed.

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