A recent increase in Hepatitis C infections in four U.S. states has the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issuing warnings to the public about this infectious blood-borne illness. The CDC attributes the recent rise in Hepatitis C cases to the increase in illegal abuse of prescription painkillers by young adults. This group often crushes opioid based painkillers and injects them via syringe. The unsanitary conditions and needle sharing are what the CDC believes is causing the rise in Hepatitis C infections.
Hepatitis C is a devastating, but treatable, disease that can lead to severe liver damage including cirrhosis and liver cancer. However, the treatment for the disease is extremely expensive, costing up to $80,000 to treat a single person. Those who do not receive treatment often face the need for a liver transplant.
Hepatitis C Infection Rate and Painkiller Addiction
The Hepatitis C infection rate began declining in recent years, with only 3 million cases reported in 1992, according to the CDC. They attribute this decline to an increase in screenings for the disease, which made individuals aware of their diagnosis. However between 2006 and 2012, the rates tripled in the Appalachian area of the country. Specifically, the highest rates were in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
70 percent of those new infections are linked to intravenous drug use among individuals under 30 years of age. These infection and drug abuse numbers correlate with other reports that show an increase of 21 percent in individuals seeking treatment at drug treatment facilities. The Appalachian region has been particularly hard hit by opioid drug abuse and heroin use in recent years. As a result, there has been a rise in Hepatitis C infections.
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Hepatitis C Incubation Period
The numbers in the most recent report may not even indicate the full extent of the problem. This is because Hepatitis C has an incubation period of up to six months after infection. Additionally, many individuals infected with it don’t experience any symptoms. Thus, they do not believe they are sick. Additionally, reporting Hepatitis C infection rates is not required of local and state governments. Therefore, it’s impossible to know the true increase in infection rates in the Appalachian area.
Of even more concern is that these numbers are only a precursor to more serious health issues down the line. For example, according to a Seattle Times article, Hepatitis C infections occur along with HIV infections much of the time. Additionally, new reported HIV cases in Indiana have risen to 150 cases among 4,200 residents in the past few months. It begs the question of how many other undiagnosed HIV infected individuals reside in these areas and are not receiving the medical treatment that they need.
John Ward, director of the CDC’s division of viral hepatitis, said, “We have a major problem with hepatitis C,” before noting that acute infection rates for the nation rose by 150 percent between the years of 2010 and 2013.
Medical Services for Painkiller Addiction
The CDC emphasizes the need for education programs in those areas to warn drug users about the potential to contract serious blood borne illnesses, such as Hepatitis C and HIV. Much of this education would need to take place in drug treatment facilities, needle exchanges and outreach programs aimed at targeting drug abusers. The CDC also highlighted the need to provide adequate medical services for these individuals both before and after Hepatitis C infection.
CDC Warns of Rise in Hepatitis C Cases Linked to Injection-Drug Use. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on May 13, 2015.
Hepatitis C Epidemic: CDC Warns Public of Increased Threat Due To Injected Painkiller Addiction. HNGN. Retrieved on May 13, 2015.
Healthcare-Associated Hepatitis B and C Outbreaks Reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2008-2014. Viral Hepatitis Statistics & Surveillance. Retrieved on May 13, 2015.