February 24, 2018

Opioid Epidemic Drives Surge in Hepatitis, CDC Says

13 May 2017, 10:48 | Rex Hubbard

Huge surge in hepatitis C among pregnant women in the US: The rate has almost DOUBLED in just 5 years - and experts blame the opioid crisis

Hepatitis C infections tripled in five years

The number of new hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections reported to CDC has nearly tripled over 5 years, reaching the highest number in 15 years, preliminary surveillance data show. In 2010, the CDC reports there were 850 cases of Hepatitis C. In 2015, that number jumped to about 2,500 cases. According to the CDC, half of the individuals who are living with the virus are not even aware that they are infected.

America's heroin epidemic is driving a surge in hepatitis C cases across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. Hepatitis C is a virus that affects the liver, but often has no noticeable symptoms until there has been significant damage to the organ. If left untreated, it can cause liver cancer or scarring of the liver. Many organizations offer free Hepatitis C testing.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the nation's drug problem recently when he said, "I really believe this epidemic of opioid abuse is a crisis, it's ravaging our communities". West Virginia was charted with the highest infection rate in 2014 at 22.6 per 1,000 live births.

The report was released ahead of National Hepatitis Testing Day, which is held in the USA on May 19. In some counties in the state, almost 8 percent of pregnant women were documented as being infected with hepatitis C at the time of delivery.

"Needle exchange is our first line of defense against the spread of hepatitis C and HIV among people who inject", Raymond said.

Pierce County saw 32 new cases of acute hepatitis C in 2016.

Hepatitis C increases in mothers and newborns "are just part of a bigger trend", Meyer said.

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

"Now we see up to five cases a month", Desmarais said. They estimate about 3.4 million people now have the disease. Hepatitis C is still associated with more deaths than 60 other diseases.

The virus can be spread by sharing drugs and needles, the stick of a contaminated needle, and through sex.

The report says Wisconsin's laws aren't as comprehensive as states such as Maine, Nevada and Utah, which have fewer barriers to needle exchange programs. Regions hardest hit by opioid overdose deaths were also most likely to see increases in HCV infection. He also called for more assistance to get these women into treatment and to better understand opioid addiction to treat these patients.

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.

The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) comes forth a week before National Hepatitis Testing Day, which is celebrated each year on May 19.

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