Kentucky led the nation in hepatitis C cases in 2013; state’s rate rose 357 percent from 2007 to 2011

By Tim Mandell
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky had the nation’s highest rate of hepatitis C in 2013, with 5.1 cases per every 100,000 people, says a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As many as 3.5 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C and more than
56,000 Kentucky resident may have chronic hepatitis C infection, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The main cause of hepatitis C is shared needles among intravenous drug users.

Hepatitis C cases rose 364 percent in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia from 2006 to 2012. The big increase was in 2007-11, when the rate rose 357 percent, a CDC state health profile says.

“Of the cases that have been reported and researchers gathered data
about potential risk factors, 73.1 percent reported injecting drugs,” Brian Wu reports for Science Times. Among new cases, 44.8 percent were people under 30.

While
officials said HIV rates are low in the four Appalachian states, they said they
fear that the increase in hepatitis C cases could lead to a rise in HIV
cases, Wu writes. Officials said needle-exchange programs are key to reduce the number of potential HIV cases. Kentucky recently authorized such programs if local officials agree to them.

“About 4.5 million Americans older than 12 abused prescription painkillers in 2013 and 289,000 used heroin, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,” Liz Szabo reports for USA Today. “About 75 percent of new heroin users previously abused opioid painkillers.

The number of first-time heroin users grew from 90,000 people in 2006 to 156,000 in 2012, according to the CDC.”

Kentucky has the third highest drug overdose mortality rate in the U.S., with
23.6 deaths per 100,000 people, says the 2013 report “Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic,” reports Trust for America’s Health. “The number of drug overdose deaths—a majority of which are from prescription drugs—in Kentucky quadrupled since 1999 when the rate was 4.9 per 100,000.”

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