In some ways, hepatitis C is the new HIV. Thanks to widespread safe-sex campaigns, HIV and AIDS aren't the killers they once were in America. They now account for about 12,700 deaths a year, down from more than 50,000 at the mid-1990s peak, Scientific American reports. That puts HIV-related deaths below those of hepatitis C, which now kills more than 15,000 a year.
And that 15,000 figure could double in the coming years, according to an essay from a pair of National Institutes of Health doctors published yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. That's because most hepatitis C patients die between the ages of 45 and 64, and most of the 3.2 million who are estimated to have it are baby boomers. Most are also unaware they're infected, and don't seek treatment until the disease has already done a lot of damage.