Hepatitis C is a global disease. While not every nation in the world has had adequate means to survey its population for incidence of the virus, enough statistics have been compiled to demonstrate the enormous threat posed by hepatitis C. Hepatitis C, in combination with hepatitis B, now accounts for 75% of all cases of liver disease around the world.
Hepatitis C shows significant genetic variation in worldwide populations, evidence of its frequent rates of mutation and rapid evolution. There are six basic genotypes of HCV, with 15 recorded subtypes, which vary in prevalence across different regions of the world. Each of these major genotypes may differ significantly in their biological effects - in terms of replication, mutation rates, type and severity of liver damage, and detection and treatment options - however, these differences are not yet clearly understood.
Figures from epidemiological studies in different regions of the world show wide variance in HCV prevalence patterns, though it is clearly evident that the incidence of HCV is higher among less developed nations. The prevalence of hepatitis C is lowest in Northern European countries, including Great Britain, Germany and France. According to one survey, the prevalence of HCV antibodies in blood donors averages less than 1% for the region. (However, other studies have suggested that rates of infection may be much higher, comparable to rates in the U.S. - approximately 2.5%). Higher rates have been reported in Southeast Asian countries, including India (1.5%), Malaysia (2.3%), and the Philipines (2.3%). The incidence in Japan was 1.2%. Alarming rates were reported for many African nations, reaching as high as 14.5% in Egypt.
These studies, when added together, suggest that over 200 million people around the world are infected with hepatitis C - an overall incidence of around 3.3% of the world's population. Statistically, as many people are infected with HCV as are with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Without large scale efforts to contain the spread of HCV and treat infected populations, the death rate from hepatitis C will surpass that of AIDS by the turn of the century and will only get worse.