Tag: blood borne disease

Hep C on the Rise & More Dangerous than HIV

An Outbreak Worse than HIV

A lot of noise has been made lately about Indiana’s HIV outbreak. It’s understandable, especially with over 150 residents testing positive for the infamous virus and numbers expected to keep rising.

hep c virus on the rise
image via Wikimedia Commons

There’s another outbreak that’s been causing quiet waves over the last few years. It hasn’t been getting as much media coverage as HIV, though it’s deadlier and spreading faster. I’m talking about the dramatic rise in Hepatitis C infections since 2006.

A recent study conducted by the Center for Disease Control notes an alarming rise in Hep C rates. This increase is centered in four Appalachian states – Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Other areas of the country have been hit and the numbers keep growing. After seeing a 150% nationwide rise in Hep C infections between 2010 and 2013, John Ward, the Director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, went on record as saying, “We have a major problem with hepatitis C” (The Wall Street Journal).

What’s going on? Why are so many IV drug users becoming infected with Hepatitis C? Are all these addicts sharing needles? Find out below.

What’s going on in Indiana??

A Realistic View of Hep C in America

Find the latest information about Hepatitis C in America broken down below:

  • The four states hit the hardest have been Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. There have been increased cases of Hep C in other parts of the country, notably in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and upstate New York.
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  • All these areas are rural, non-urban environments where IV painkiller abuse is prevalent.
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  • How much have infection rates grown? Well, from 2006 to 2012 they grew a whopping 364%. Of all these cases, 73% were linked directly to IV drug use.
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  • A large percentages of these cases, almost 45%, were among white men and women under the age of thirty.
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  • During this six year period, there was also a 12.6% rise in the admittance of IV drug users to addiction treatment centers.
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  • All told, approximately three million Americans are thought to be infected with Hep C. Large portions of these infections are unrelated to IV drug use (baby boomers infected prior to safety regulations on blood transfusions).
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    Why Are So Many People Getting Infected?

    There’s been a large increase in Hepatitis C infections since the mid 2000’s. That much is fact. The question then becomes, simply, what now? Why are so many people getting infected and what can we do to stop the spread of HCV?

    Well, before looking at how to prevent and treat Hep C, let’s first examine why it’s spreading so rapidly. Let’s look at why, compared to HIV and other blood borne diseases, it’s spreading like wildfire (Hep C is approximately five times as prevalent as HIV).

    The answer is actually rather simple. Hep C is a more spreadable virus than HIV. It takes smaller quantities of the virus, already at minuscule levels, to infect an individual. This alone makes it more likely to spread.

    Add into the equation painkillers. Generally, when injecting painkillers, individuals need to use a higher gauge syringe. This leads to larger puncture wounds and more infected blood in the syringe. This, then, leads to greater infection rates.

    In fact, when a CDC team investigated this idea, they found that users who injected painkillers were five times more likely to test positive for Hepatitis C than those who injected only heroin.

    A simple guide to understanding Hep C treatment

    Hep C Treatment

    Now that we have an understanding of why HCV is spreading so quickly, let’s examine what can be done to halt this spread and treat the virus itself.

    In recent years there’s been an explosion of highly effective Hep C drugs. The most recent of these, Harvoni, has over a 90% success rate. It’s a twelve-week regimen of direct anti-viral medicine. Unlike Interferon, an older treatment, Harvoni carries with it almost no side effects.

    hcv infection

    So, there’s a medicine available with high “cure” rates and minimal side effects. Surely Hepatitis C shouldn’t worry anyone anymore, right? Well, there is a downside – the cost. An entire twelve-week supply of Harvoni can cost anywhere from $80,000 to upwards of $100,000.

    With prices reaching sky-high levels, many insurance companies are hesitant to pay. The question then becomes how to stop the spread of Hep C altogether. After all, if people aren’t getting infected, there’s no need for expensive treatment.

    Perhaps the best strategy to reduce the spread of Hepatitis C, and other blood borne disease, is education and outreach. Schools, community organizations, treatment centers, and other recovery resources should continue a dialogue about Hep C. They should educate the public on what the virus is, how it’s spread, and how to avoid contracting it.

    This moves us nicely towards direct outreach. These are things like syringe exchange programs, low cost health clinics, and other harm reduction methods. Although controversial, harm reduction has been shown to greatly reduce instances of Hep C and HIV infection.

    Through this combined approach, education and outreach, I believe we stand a real chance at halting Hepatitis C in its tracks. This can’t come soon enough. With the painkiller and heroin epidemic raging, with the increased prevalence of infectious disease, we need a solution and now! This just might be it.

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