The number of new hepatitis C virus infections in the US has nearly tripled over the last five years to reach a 15-year high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The disease kills more people in the US - with 20,000 deaths reported in 2015 - than any other infectious disease, and nearly half of the people living with the virus are unaware they are infected.

Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said: “We must reach the hardest-hit communities with a range of prevention and treatment services that can diagnose people with hepatitis C and link them to treatment.

“This wide range of services can also prevent the misuse of prescription drugs and ultimately stop drug use - which can also prevent others from getting hepatitis C in the first place.”

The majority of the 3.5 million Americans living with hepatitis C are baby boomers, but new hepatitis C virus infections are increasing most rapidly among young people, with the highest overall number of new infections among 20-29 year olds primarily as a result of increasing injection drug use.

While new medicines can now cure hepatitis C virus infections in as little as 2-3 months, many people in need of treatments are still not able to get it according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has recently released a National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan setting goals for improving prevention, care and treatment of the disease.

John Ward, director of the CDC’s division of viral hepatitis, said: “We have a cure for this disease and the tools to prevent new infections.

“Now we just need a substantial, focused, and concerted national effort to implement the National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan and make effective prevention tools and curative treatment available to those in need.”