Overall, the number of new hepatitis C virus infections reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention almost tripled from 2010 to 2015, hitting a 15-year high.
New hepatitis C virus infections are increasing most rapidly among young people, with the highest overall number of new infections among 20- to 29-year-olds. The national rise in hepatitis C cases, the report explained, is largely attributable to injectable opioids such as heroin and prescription drugs, as the primary risk factor for infection is injection drug use.
The 294 percent spike in hepatitis C infections from 2010 to 2015 is "largely attributed to injection drug use", like the increased use of heroin, according to the researchers.
Since the liver-destroying infection doesn't usually cause symptoms until it's too late, it is important to make sure people get tested - and to fight the practices that get people infected in the first place, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report. The CDC notes the disease is "the most common blood-borne infection" in the USA, affecting approximately 3.5 million Americans. Hepatitis C often leads to cirrhosis and liver cancer; together, these two conditions are responsible for most deaths connected to hepatitis C. Left untreated, the infection can eventually cause severe liver disease and can be fatal.
Tennessee Department of Health Epidemiologist Tim Jones, M.D., mentioned that the study is a good reminder of the growing epidemic of hepatitis C in high-risk populations across the country.
Hepatitis C is most commonly found in older adults but now there's evidence the virus is affecting a much younger generation.
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In West Virginia, the investigators found that more than one in 50 newborns were exposed to HCV at the time of childbirth.
That same year, about 20,000 deaths in the USA were linked to the virus. Those patients-in-waiting helped Gilead sell $12.49 billion of its hepatitis C pills in the U.S.in 2015, the biggest new drug introduction in history.
Treatments for hepatitis C, including those available from Gilead Sciences, AbbVie and others, have a cure rate of over 95 percent, but, according to the report, at least 24 states require proof of sobriety to receive available treatments through Medicaid. Many people with chronic hepatitis C infection will live out a normal lifespan. Free needle exchanges, which minimize the sharing of needles that transmit the disease, also face challenges with funding and opposition among those who believe it encourages drug use.
The state is mired in an opioid abuse epidemic. Still, the majority of the 3.5 million Americans who are living with HCV are those who were born between 1945 and 1965, namely baby boomers. The CDC conducted a state-by-state analysis of reported HCV cases, and reviewed laws related to clean needle programs, according to the New York Times.
There is no vaccine for HCV, but there are treatments that can cure HCV infection.