US hepatitis C cases soar on spike in heroin use

Bryan Strickland
May 13, 2017

Hepatitis C killed about 20,000 Americans in 2015, making it the most fatal infectious disease tracked by the CDC. The infection often produces no symptoms in its early stages, though it can lead to liver failure if left untreated.

The health department tests, reports and monitors hepatitis C patients.

They found this increase coincided with the "rising heroin and prescription opioid epidemics in the United States".

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In West Virginia, 2% of all infants were exposed to hepatitis C at birth, the highest rate nationwide. However, deaths associated with HCV were largely underestimated, according to the agency; the only large USA 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. "In some counties in Tennessee, almost 8 percent of pregnant women were documented as being infected with hepatitis C at the time of delivery". Hepatitis C can be cured with oral medications, which is why the critical factor is prevention.

Louisiana health secretary Rebekah Gee is exploring ways to obtain a generic form of a drug to fight hepatitis C to treat the 73,000 people in her state who now have the disease. The study also examined whether states had permissive or strict sobriety requirements to get costly Hepatitis C treatment under Medicaid.

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In the Valley, the Mahoning County Board of Health told 21 News the number of reported infections with the virus has gone up noticeably. He added that it's also imperative to follow infants exposed to hepatitis C in the womb in case they develop the virus. Additionally, the agency estimates that somewhere between 850,000 and 2.2 million people are living in the US without knowing they are infected with the hepatitis virus.

Of the 3.5 million Americans living with hepatitis, most were born between 1945 and 1965 and were infected decades ago, according to the CDC.

Patrick agreed, noting that women who know they have the virus before pregnancy can be treated to hopefully clear the virus prior to becoming pregnant. He says they should also use syringe exchange programs, though there are only about half a dozen in the state.

"Now we see up to five cases a month", Desmarais said.

The number of births where a hepatitis C infection was present in the mother at the time of delivery rose 89 percent between 2009 and 2014, from 1.8 to 3.4 per 1,000 live births, according to a study by researchers at Vanderbilt University published Thursday by the CDC.

There is no vaccine for HCV, but there are treatments that can cure HCV infection. The HHS kept this in mind for their National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, 2017-2020, which aims to eliminate all new hepatitis infections, a plan which has been dubbed "feasible if the right steps are taken", in a recent report.

Other reports by GlobalViralNews

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