Drug Epidemic Increases Hepatitis C Cases in Wisconsin

Frederick Owens
May 13, 2017

Preliminary surveillance data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the number of reported hepatitis C virus (HCV) cases has nearly tripled in number from 2011-2015, "reaching a 15-year high". The report, released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), points to a spike in heroin use and other injectable drugs that potentially fueled the 300 percent increase in cases. Further, limited surveillance resources have led to underreporting, meaning the annual number of HCV cases reported to the CDC (850 in 2010 and 2,436 in 2015) does not reflect the true scale of the epidemic.

Ahead of National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, the CDC released new statistics highlighting the public health threat posed by hepatitis B and C and a campaign of awareness to promote testing and managed care of the viral infection.

If left untreated, the disease may scar the liver (cirrhosis), and eventually cause liver cancer and then liver failure.

The health department tests, reports and monitors hepatitis C patients.

The CDC said the data show the increase was primarily a result of intravenous drug use. "In turn many - most, in some communities - people who inject drugs become infected with hepatitis C". "West Virginia had the highest prevalence of infection among pregnant women -; 1 in 50 newborns were exposed to the virus".

For some of the infected, hepatitis C can just be a short-term illness, but 70 to 85 percent of the infected often experience long-term health problems, even death.

Pierce County saw 32 new cases of acute hepatitis C in 2016. The study also examined whether states had permissive or strict sobriety requirements to get costly Hepatitis C treatment under Medicaid.

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The bloodborne virus is transmitted by injection drug use, dirty needles, blood transfusions and sex. The data released today indicate that almost 20,000 Americans died from hepatitis C-related causes in 2015, and the majority of deaths were people age 55 and older. 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.

"How can we afford not to save people's lives at $84,000?" says Gruber, now an economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

To decide whether a state had comprehensive needle laws, the CDC explored five questions: Did the state explicitly authorize a needle exchange program?

MDHHS has also warned of the recent increase in Hepatitis A infection in Southeast Michigan.

Most people clear the virus on their own after an infection.

There is no vaccine for HCV, but there are treatments that can cure HCV infection.

He is director of the agency's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

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