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Hep C Infection Rates Triple in Recent Years, Linked To Opioid Crisis: CDC Warns

The number of hepatitis C cases have nearly tripled since 2010, primarily driven by the opioid painkiller epidemic in the United States, according to findings outlined in a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The CDC report used data from the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (NNDSS), which receives viral hepatitis case reports electronically each week from state health departments in the U.S. via the CDC’s National Electronic Telecommunications System for Surveillance (NETSS).

The system accepts case reports of acute and chronic infections from all states. The data also included birth records from 2009 to 2014.

The data indicated hepatitis C infections tripled from 2010 to 2015. It also indicates the rates increased much faster among younger adults.

CDC health officials said the dramatic increase in hepatitis C infections is found mainly among people sharing needles for drug injections, a byproduct of the opioid painkiller epidemic, which has worsened in recent years.

A new study indicated opioid deaths are largely under reported and many fatalities may be caused by overdose, but not correctly linked to the drug use.

The increased hepatitis C infections were predominantly seen among young white people living in non-urban areas, especially the Appalachians, Midwestern states, and New England Regions. These are all areas hit hard by the opioid overdose epidemic.

The CDC report also indicate hepatitis C rates increased 89% among pregnant women from 2009 to 2014. A similar study indicated infants born with opioid withdrawal syndrome increased more than 3,000 percent over the last decade. More babies are born to opioid addicted mothers than before, causing a slew of infants with addiction problems.

CDC researchers indicate the hepatitis C increase among pregnant women was primarily seen among areas significantly affected by the opioids abuse epidemic, including West Virginia and rural counties in Tennessee.

Nationally, 35 babies each day are exposed to hepatitis C. Pregnant women can pass the disease on to their babies, which is why treating the disease before pregnancy is important. Many children are born with birth defects caused by their mother’s prescription opioid painkiller abuse, often before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Researchers recommend one-time hepatitis C testing for adults born 1945 to 1965 and those who are at increased risk for infection. This can increase the proportion of people who are linked to recommended care and treatment for hepatitis C.

Other health officials suggest that the best way to reduce hepatitis C is to fight the practices that cause the disease, especially needle sharing. One way is by offering needle exchange programs to help prevent the mechanism that spreads the disease. The programs offer clean needles to users, while linking them to treatment programs, infectious disease testing and medical care.

These programs are important because needle sharing not only leads to hepatitis C, but also HIV, which causes AIDS.

However, many conservative lawmakers oppose needle exchange programs. In 18 states needle exchange programs are illegal. Laws are in place making it a crime to have or distribute syringes, greatly hindering programs that can help prevent the spread of serious diseases.

Hepatitis C killed more than 20,000 people in 2015 in the U.S. and affects more than 3.5 million people nationally.

The disease typically doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s too late, which is why testing and prevention are key to stopping its spread. Treatment is possible, but is largely too expensive for most people. The average hepatitis C drug costs nearly $95,000 for one week of treatment.

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