Drug epidemic increases Hepatitis C cases in Wisconsin

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

The number of new Hepatitis C cases leaped almost 300 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a report released by the CDC looking at hepatitis C virus (HCV) cases and injected drugs, researchers found HCV rates increased by nearly 300 percent between 2010 and 2014. Dr. John Ward, author of the new report from the CDC, said that research "identified increasing injection drug use - tied to the U.S. opioid epidemic - in rural and suburban areas across the country". Since hepatitis C often doesn't cause symptoms for years, Patrick said patients may not seek supportive medical care or may spread the disease without realizing it.

States that have struggled most with the unfolding opioid crisis also tended to have worst rates of new Hepatitis C infections.

Hepatitis C leads to liver cancer. Treatment for hepatitis C exists, although it is expensive, which is why Medicaid patients are nearly always denied any treatment.

The increase is particularly marked among white women in places where heroin injection use has spiked among an epidemic of people addicted to opioid painkillers, with some 33,000 people dying of overdoses in 2015. Many believe the drug epidemic is the leading cause for the increase in Hepatitis C cases. "West Virginia had the highest prevalence of infection among pregnant women -; 1 in 50 newborns were exposed to the virus". In 2013, for instance, the CDC says some 19,000 people died of their infections.

Senior author and TDH Medical Director for HIV, STD & Viral Hepatitis Carolyn Wester, M.D, said the increase highlights the importance of ensuring that women of childbearing age have access to hepatitis C testing and treatment.

While grim news from a public health standpoint, the rising number of infections is an opportunity for drugmakers including Gilead Sciences Inc.

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

The disease might have infected thousands of county residents who use heroin and other injectable drugs, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

'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. "We need to educate people about risk factors, and be permitted to offer programs, like syringe exchange, to reduce the transmission of this disease". And while the most rapidly increasing group of reported cases is among younger people, the majority of existing cases of the among Baby Boomers.

Currently there are a number of FDA-approved regimens "and the beauty is that these regimens are now virtually uniformly successful" in bringing about a cure of the infection, said Chung.

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