Hepatitis C in America
What’s the worst disease you can think of?
Most people would probably say AIDS, cancer, or maybe the avian flu. Not many are going to say hepatitis C.
Guess what though? Hep C is currently spreading across the United States at far greater rates than any of the above.
It isn’t easy to admit, or pleasant to think about, but we’re in the midst of several wars. We’re fighting painkillers, heroin, synthetic drugs like spice and bath salts, and now – Hep C and liver disease.
Some sources are quick to point out that as IV heroin use has exploded, so have cases of Hep C. While the two have a close relationship, there still isn’t definitive proof one way of the other.
What we do know, and what affects people like you and me, is this – hepatitis C infection is up approximately 273% from 2009. Something very bad is going on here.
What is Hep C?
Although it’s often talked about, Hep C isn’t that well understood.
While explaining the ins and outs would take much more space than we have – not to mention, hepatitis C and various treatments are explored here – we’ll give you the basics.
Hep C, also known as HCV, is a viral infection that attacks the liver.
- It can be symptomatic (showing signs) or asymptomatic (showing no signs)
- It leads to fibrosis (scar tissue), cirrhosis (a build up of scar tissue on the liver causing major problems), and, in some cases, liver cancer
- It can be acute (the first six months after becoming infected) or chronic (an HCV infection that last longer than six months. Most instances of HCV are chronic)
Hepatitis C is different from hepatitis A or B. Hep A is spread through contaminated food and water and has a vaccine. Hep B is spread through contact with infected body fluids and also has a vaccine.
HCV, on the other hand, is spread through blood-to-blood contact and has no vaccine. The primary route of infection is through IV drug users sharing needles.
Just How Quickly is Hep C Spreading?
That’s the real question, right? How bad is HCV in America? Find that information and more below:
- Cases of acute Hep C grew 273% between 2009 and 2013
- That breaks down to over 19,000 deaths due to HCV in 2013
- This is up from 16,235 deaths in 2009
- During early 2015, an average of 48,000 prescriptions were filled per month for Hep C fighting medications (Harvoni, Sovaldi, interferon, etc.)
- Between 2007 and 2013, heroin use also exploded – rising close to 150%
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All statistics taken from the Star Tribune.
Since injection drug use is the primary transmission route of HCV and, during the same time period, both Hep C and heroin use increased dramatically – it’s safe to say the two are related.
Officials can’t say whether increased heroin use is the only cause, or even the primary cause, for the drastic increase in Hep C infections. Still, it’s clear the two are linked and having some impact on each other.
What States are Being Hit the Hardest?
Based on the above numbers, it isn’t hyperbole to say we’re in the grip of a hepatitis C outbreak…but what does that look like from the ground? What does it look like in individual states and counties?
Well, again according to the Star Tribune, it looks something like this:
- The national rate of HCV infection is around .7 per 100,000 people. In Washington County, Maine, the rate is around 6 per 100,000 people.
- Madison County, in Indiana, had 70 cases of Hep C in 2013. This number increased to 130 in 2014. All of which is to say nothing about Indiana’s HIV outbreak.
- HCV infection in Massachusetts has grown from 10 new cases in 2009 to 174 in 2013.
- Kentucky has 5.1 cases of acute Hep C infection per 100,000 people. Remember, the national average is .7 cases per 100,000 people.
- Hepatitis C is on the rise in Springfield, Missouri. Although exact figures aren’t available, heroin is being seized at around five times the rate it was in 2013. This suggests cases of Hep C will be around five times higher than normal.
What Can We Do?
It’s easy to sit back and say that hepatitis C is on the rise in America. What isn’t so easy, though, is figuring out just what to do to slow it down.
Thankfully, there are a host of new medications that boast upwards of a 90% success rate in curing cases of Hep C. These, mentioned briefly above, are Harvoni, Sovaldi, and other direct protein inhibitors.
The downside to these new meds is their cost. They routinely cost upwards of $100,000 for a full course of therapy. This makes insurance companies wary of giving people the go ahead to take them.
The other major option we have is harm reduction. This is a form of substance abuse treatment aimed at helping addicts to, as the name suggests, reduce the potential harm of addiction.
It’s comprised of techniques like methadone maintenance, syringe exchanges, basic healthcare services, safe injection sites, and others.
Despite offering some major benefits – making sure addicts have access to clean syringes can almost entirely wipe out blood-borne disease like HCV – it’s also controversial and faces steep opposition from many politicians.
Regardless of where you stand on harm reduction, the fact that is can help to reduce the current spread of Hep C is pretty impressive. That’s something we can all agree on.
What do you think about the recent rise in Hep C infections? Let us know on social media.