Drug epidemic increases Hepatitis C cases in Wisconsin

Kathleen Mckinney
May 13, 2017

According to the CDC, Hepatitis C is the most viral form of hepatitis, and in 2013, accounted for approximately 19,000 deaths per year, a number that was greater than that of 60 other nationally notifiable infectious diseases combined.

Experts say the rise of the opioid epidemic, with increasing numbers of people sharing needles to inject heroin and prescription painkillers, is driving the increase in cases. Nationally reported infections grew from 850 cases in 2010 to 2,436 cases in 2015, and those affected were young people between the ages of 20 and 29. According to the CDC, half of the individuals who are living with the virus are not even aware that they are infected.

Hepatitis C killed about 20,000 Americans in 2015, making it the most fatal infectious disease tracked by the CDC.

Hepatitis C is characterized by a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, often ending up in serious liver damage. If left untreated, it can cause liver cancer or scarring of the liver. Acute hepatitis C, which begins within six months of exposure, can move into a long-lasting stage, chronic hepatitis C.

Infections are growing fastest among Americans in their 20s, because of injection drug use, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Around 90 percent of USA children are vaccinated against hepatitis A and B and though no vaccine exists for hepatitis C, it can be treated with a relatively short course (12-week) of an oral anti-viral medication.

The report was released ahead of National Hepatitis Testing Day, which is held in the USA on May 19. 'In some counties in Tennessee, almost 8 percent of pregnant women were documented as being infected with hepatitis C at the time of delivery'. She's the medical director for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and viral hepatitis at the Tennessee Department of Health.

Between 2 million to 4 million people in the US have hepatitis C, Skorney said.

While the disease is more common in the baby boomer population, Patrick said the new infections have increased among women in their reproductive years revealing one new effect of the opioid epidemic. A study out of Philadelphia found that only 15 percent were adequately followed to see if they had Hepatitis C, he noted. West Virginia had the highest infection rate in 2014 with 22.6 per 1,000 live births, while Tennessee had 10.1 hepatitis C infections per 1,000 live births. They estimate about 3.4 million people now have the disease. While many argue the programs enable drug users, the state health department said studies show a needle exchange program helps to decrease the chances of spreading the disease.

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

The state is mired in an opioid abuse epidemic. ME has also seen an increase in reported infections. These data underscore the need for stronger testing, treatment, and prevention of HCV.

'Anyone born between 1945-1965, or who has ever used IV drugs, or is otherwise anxious about hepatitis infection, is encouraged to discuss with their clinicians whether testing may be appropriate for them, ' he said.

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