Heroin epidemic pushing up hepatitis C infections in US

Tabitha Dunn
May 13, 2017

The heroin epidemic is driving up hepatitis C infections, with the biggest increase in people ages 20 to 29, USA health officials said Thursday.

According to the CDC report, the national reported rate of hepatitis C was 0.8 per 100,000 persons in 2015, with almost 34,000 new infections. Dr. John Ward, author of the new report from the CDC, said that research "identified increasing injection drug use - tied to the U.S. opioid epidemic - in rural and suburban areas across the country". Further, limited surveillance resources have led to underreporting, meaning the annual number of HCV cases reported to the CDC (850 in 2010 and 2,436 in 2015) does not reflect the true scale of the epidemic. According to the CDC, half of the individuals who are living with the virus are not even aware that they are infected. The states found to have twice the national average for Hepatitis C infections were Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a blood borne virus.

If left untreated, the disease may scar the liver (cirrhosis), and eventually cause liver cancer and then liver failure.

Hepatitis C is being kept track due to the dangers it poses on those infected.

Even with the new surveillance efforts, hepatitis C detection can be hard, particularly among younger patients who may be using drugs and are less likely get regular medical care.

The report was released ahead of National Hepatitis Testing Day, which is held in the US on May 19. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there's no vaccine for hepatitis C and it can be fatal if not treated.

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Senior author Dr Carolyn Wester said the increase highlights the importance of ensuring that women of childbearing age have access to hepatitis C testing and treatment.

The report shows numbers of patients infected tripled from 2010 to 2015.

"By testing, curing and preventing hepatitis C, we can protect generations of Americans from needless suffering and death", said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention in a statement released today.

Hepatitis C is transmitted from mother to child in about 6 percent of cases. It also makes sure they understand how to stop the spread of the virus, and find treatment options for the disease and for drug addiction.

'Taken together, this suggests that efforts targeted at preventing and expanding treatment for opioid use disorder may help mitigate some of the increases we see, ' Dr Patrick said. Not only are baby boomers six times more likely to have the infection compared with other age groups, they are also at increased risk of virus-related death.

"State laws that increase access to syringe exchange programs and clean needles and syringes, and policies that facilitate access to HCV treatment through state Medicaid programs can reduce HCV transmission risk", the CDC says.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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