Over just five years, the number of new hepatitis C virus infections reported to CDC has almost tripled, reaching a 15-year high, according to new preliminary surveillance data released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Hepatitis C incidences have jumped by as much as 300% from 2010 to 2015. Symptoms can include fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint pain and jaundice.
In 2015, it found HCV rates in 17 states exceeded the national average. Most people do not know they are infected, and the virus is more prevalent in the prison population. The virus is mostly spread by sharing needles to inject drugs.
Hepatitis C is most commonly found in older adults but now there's evidence the virus is affecting a much younger generation.
"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. "This wide range of services can also prevent the misuse of prescription drugs and ultimately stop drug use-which can also prevent others from getting hepatitis C in the first place".
However, it is not only drug users that can be infected. He says they should also use syringe exchange programs, though there are only about half a dozen in the state. Did the state exempt syringes from the definition of drug paraphernalia?
Used syringes rest in a pile at a needle exchange clinic in St. Johnsbury, Vt. It can be contracted through injected blood or by using contaminated needles. Rates were three times as high in rural areas of the state compared to urban counties, according to the study. A release states that the rate has nearly doubled between 2009-2014.
While there are medications that can resolve hepatitis C infections, they are not approved for pregnant women or children at this point.
The team behind the study stresses their findings show just how important it is that all pregnant women have access to STI testing and treatment.
"We found that rural and Appalachian counties were particularly impacted by the virus", Patrick said. Sky high hepatitis C drug costs have led states to restrict coverage of drugs to treat it. In 2013, Hepatitis C infection accounted for approximately 19,000 deaths in the U.S. West Virginia had the highest infection rate in 2014 at 22.6 per 1,000 live births. Treatment for hepatitis C exists, although it is expensive, which is why Medicaid patients are nearly always denied any treatment. Not only are baby boomers six times more likely to have the infection compared with other age groups, they are also at increased risk of virus-related death.
The opioid epidemic sweeping the country is being blamed by experts for a significant increase in the number of pregnant women with hepatitis C.
"We suspect it is linked to the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States", said Patrick, explaining his team previously found a 5-fold increase in infants having opioid withdrawal after birth with newborn opioid withdrawal occurring at higher rates in rural areas. Gee says she been forced to cut most mental health treatment services in the Medicaid program. Despite existing treatments that can cure over 90% of these infections, the CDC says that Hepatitis C remains to be a unsafe health problem, NPR reports.
First, it's simply hard to identify and then treat people who inject drugs, said Chung, who did not participate in the CDC research. However, because persons with HCV are often asymptomatic for many years, most people have never been tested or diagnosed.