Hepatitis C Infections Growing Along With Opioid Crisis

Hepatitis C Infections Growing Along With Opioid Crisis

Hepatitis C Infections Growing Along With Opioid Crisis

"Reported cases of acute HCV infection increased more than 2.9-fold from 2010 through 2015, rising annually throughout this period", the report reads. So the CDC thinks the reported cases are only a fraction of actual infections.

"These new infections are most frequently among young people who transition from taking prescription pills to injecting heroin, which has become cheaper and more easily available in some cases", said Ward. In fact, the CDC estimates that the number of cases that actually occurred in the United States in 2015 is significantly more than that: 34,000, to be exact. About one in five of people with chronic infection will eventually develop severe liver damage (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver cancer or liver failure and the need for liver transplantation.

The increase is particularly marked among white women in places where heroin injection use has spiked among an epidemic of people addicted to opioid painkillers, with some 33,000 people dying of overdoses in 2015.

Indeed, the surge in hepatitis C diagnoses was most overt in rural parts of Tennessee and West Virginia, which were hard-hit by the drug abuse crisis.

West Virginia, which has been ravaged by opioids, had the highest rate at 22.6 per live births. However, deaths associated with HCV were largely underestimated, according to the agency; the only large US study of deaths among persons with confirmed HCV infection indicated that only 19% had HCV listed on the death certificates despite 75% having evidence of substantial liver disease.

For some of the infected, hepatitis C can just be a short-term illness, but 70 to 85 percent of the infected often experience long-term health problems, even death. "We have a cure for this disease and the tools to prevent new infections". Rural areas in other states are also experiencing a similar, though smaller rise in new hepatitis C cases. Others can start treatment for the virus around age 3.

The bloodborne virus is transmitted by injection drug use, dirty needles, blood transfusions and sex.

The metro-Atlanta based agency reports that cases of the deadly virus have tripled in only about 5 years. A study out of Philadelphia found that only 15 percent were adequately followed to see if they had Hepatitis C, he noted. Still, the majority of the 3.5 million Americans who are living with HCV are those who were born between 1945 and 1965, namely baby boomers. He also called for more assistance to get these women into treatment and to better understand opioid addiction to treat these patients.

He also said that it is increasingly important that infants exposed to hepatitis C are monitored to see if they get the virus.

"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. The importance of this effort was underscored recently by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which in a recent report concluded that eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat in the United States is feasible if the right steps are taken.

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