Data from the 2003-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that about 3.6 million people in the United States have antibodies to the hepatitis C virus, of whom 2.7 million are currently infected. NHANES, however, excludes several high-risk populations from its sampling frame, including people who are incarcerated, homeless, or hospitalized; nursing home residents; active-duty military personnel; and people living on Indian reservations. We undertook a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature and sought out unpublished presentations and data to estimate the prevalence of hepatitis C in these excluded populations and in turn improve the estimate of the number of people with hepatitis C in the United States. The available data do not support a precise result, but we estimated that 1.0 million (range 0.4 million-1.8 million) persons excluded from the NHANES sampling frame have hepatitis C virus antibody, including 500,000 incarcerated people, 220,000 homeless people, 120,000 people living on Indian reservations, and 75,000 people in hospitals. Most are men. An estimated 0.8 million (range 0.3 million-1.5 million) are currently infected. Several additional sources of underestimation, including nonresponse bias and the underrepresentation of other groups at increased risk of hepatitis C that are not excluded from the NHANES sampling frame, were not addressed in this study.
Conclusion: The number of US residents who have been infected with hepatitis C is unknown but is probably at least 4.6 million (range 3.4 million-6.0 million), and of these, at least 3.5 million (range 2.5 million-4.7 million) are currently infected; additional sources of potential underestimation suggest that the true prevalence could well be higher.
© 2015 by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.