Heroin Epidemic Pushing Up Hepatitis C Infections in US

Glen Mclaughlin
May 13, 2017

Despite the release of lifesaving drugs that cure the hepatitis C virus (HCV), new cases continue to spike due to heroin use and other injection drugs, according to United States health officials.

In the report, the CDC states that the rise of injection drug use is the primary cause of the increase in new hepatitis C infections.

But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think the reported infections are only a fraction of the actual number.

"We know that most of the folks we work with say that they do not share their needles with anybody, so that's going to prevent the transmission of Hepatitis C to others", Stokes said. "And to me I believe that is the driver of the spread of Hepatitis C in Wisconsin and across the nation".

"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", Patrick said.

Hepatitis C is most commonly found in older adults but now there's evidence the virus is affecting a much younger generation. 'West Virginia had the highest prevalence of infection among pregnant women - 1 in 50 newborns were exposed to the virus'.

HCV is said to be the most common form of hepatitis in the United States, which accounted for about 19,000 deaths in 2013.

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They found the odds of an infection were about three times higher among women residing in rural counties than among women in large urban counties, 4.5-times higher among women who smoked cigarettes during pregnancy, and almost 17-times higher among women with concurrent hepatitis B virus infection. She's the medical director for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and viral hepatitis at the Tennessee Department of Health.

Treatments for hepatitis C, including those available from Gilead Sciences, AbbVie and others, have a cure rate of over 95 percent, but, according to the report, at least 24 states require proof of sobriety to receive available treatments through Medicaid.

The biggest jump in new infections is in people ages 20 to 29, the CDC said.

The cause for this increase is attributed to the opioid epidemic, which affects rural parts of the country in particular.

Some children have been known to clear the virus on their own, while others can start treatment around age three.

The study showed that hepatitis C infections in women at the time of childbirth increased by 89 percent, from 1.8 to 3.4 instances per 1,000 live births from 2009 to 2014. About 3.5 million people, mostly over 55, are infected. These data underscore the need for stronger testing, treatment, and prevention of HCV. The CDC says state laws increasing access to needle exchange programs can reduce the risk of infection.

He is director of the agency's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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