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Drug epidemic increases Hepatitis C cases in Wisconsin

13 May 2017

There were over 19,000 deaths in 2015 associated with hepatitis C, exceeding "the combined number of deaths with 60 other infectious diseases as underlying causes", according to the CDC.

If left untreated, the disease may scar the liver (cirrhosis), and eventually cause liver cancer and then liver failure. It's traditionally been about 18 months before Hepatitis C is testable although there are some newer technologies that can do it earlier, he said.

"We have seen a dramatic increase in opioid use in pregnancy and in the number of infants having drug withdrawal", Dr. Stephen Patrick, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy at Vanderbilt, said in a press release. Many stemmed from the growing use of injected drugs linked to the current opioid epidemic, officials said. West Virginia was charted with the highest infection rate in 2014 at 22.6 per 1,000 live births.

Dr. Lynne Saddler, district director of the Northern Kentucky Health Department, noted that the region is seeing hepatitis C primarily in young adults, with the biggest age range for infection being 25 to 34.

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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.

And despite the existence of therapies that can cure more than 90 percent of infections, the organization says the disease remains a deadly threat. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there's no vaccine for hepatitis C and it can be fatal if not treated.

The metro-Atlanta based agency reports that cases of the deadly virus have tripled in only about 5 years.

Some children have been known to clear the virus on their own.

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Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said: "We must reach the hardest-hit communities with a range of prevention and treatment services that can diagnose people with hepatitis C and link them to treatment". He added that it's also imperative to follow infants exposed to hepatitis C in the womb in case they develop the virus. The virus is mostly spread by sharing needles to inject drugs. ME has also seen an increase in reported infections. 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.

'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, ' Dr Patrick said.

Among the best ways of preventing spread of the virus are public health laws that allow access to clean syringes for drug users, such as needle exchange programs, decriminalization of the possession of syringes, and allowing the retail sale of syringes without a prescription.

The researchers say limited access to HCV prevention and treatment services that stop transmission has also contributed to the surge in cases.

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Drug epidemic increases Hepatitis C cases in Wisconsin