June 27, 2017

US hepatitis C cases soar on spike in heroin use

13 May 2017, 10:47 | Jan Cross

Hepatitis C in the US: Cases triple in past 5 years

This map from the new study shows the rate of hepatitis C infections among pregnant women per 1,000 live births by state in 2014. The highest rates are in rural parts of West Virginia and Tennessee, which have been hard-hit by

Hepatitis C is related to more deaths in the United States than 60 other infectious diseases. Many people with chronic hepatitis C infection will live out a normal lifespan. For example, a total of 850 cases were reported to the CDC in 2010 and 2436 cases were reported in 2015, but these numbers do not necessarily "reflect the true scale of the epidemic". The CDC report said intravenous drug use is the primary risk factor for new infections. Seven states had at least twice the average amount of reported infections: Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The committee, led by Dr. Strom, advises an aggressive plan to tackle hepatitis infection, including increased testing for the virus, diagnosis, treatment and prevention methods, such as needle exchanges. A related analysis in the CDC's weekly report found 17 states had high hepatitis C rates.

"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 in a Vanderbilt news release. Hepatitis C, which kills about 19,000 people a year and infects about 3.5 million people nationwide, is a virus that mostly spreads by contact with blood, and rarely through sex or saliva.

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.

Stop injecting drugs if you possibly can.

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The study joins other evidence pointing to the devastating effects of opioid abuse on hepatitis C rates.

Regions hardest hit by opioid overdose deaths were also most likely to see jumps in hepatitis C, the report noted.

'We need to build systems of care to ensure that all infants exposed to the virus are adequately followed, ' Patrick said. The report showed that the seven states, which include New Mexico, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Tennessee, West Virginia and ME, have a statistically significant increase drug overdose deaths also have an infection rate at least twice the national average. The study also examined whether states had permissive or strict sobriety requirements to get costly Hepatitis C treatment under Medicaid. "So the ability to access those medications is highly variable", said Chung.

When they first appeared on the market, these treatments made headlines and garnered criticism for their high price tags. However, Chung says deals and different arrangements between the pharmaceutical drug providers and payors have been made considerably reducing the cost. And it's led to a spike in Hepatitis C patients coming through his doors. Among those cases, young teens, aged 20 to 29 years old and using IV drugs, have the highest rate of infection.

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