Latest sign of IV drug spread: Hepatitis C cases among Kentucky women of childbearing age more than tripled from 2011 to 2014

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chart shows hepatitis C rates for Kentucky and U.S.

Hepatitis C among Kentucky women of childbearing age more than tripled from 2011 to 2014, while the national rate among that group was rising only moderately, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said July 22 in a report that “offers further evidence of growing problems in the state from intravenous drug use,” Bill Estep writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In 2011, the hepatitis C infection rate among Kentucky women aged 15-44 was 275 per 100,000. In 2011, it was 862 per 100,000 — an increase of 213 percent. The national increase during the period was only 22 percent.

The CDC highlighted Kentucky because “the state had the highest incidence of acute hepatitis C infections from 2011 through 2014,” Estep reports. “The report found that the rate of infants born to women diagnosed with hepatitis C went up 124 percent in Kentucky in that time.”

But those numbers likely understate the problem, Estep notes: “The figures were based on data from a large commercial laboratory called Quest Diagnostics and birth certificates. The report said that having to rely on data from one lab means the
figures might not represent the reality across the country or in
Kentucky. The numbers for Kentucky are likely low, the report said. Official figures for 2015 are not yet available. However, health department officials said early indications suggest the trend will continue for 2015.”

Health officials also told Estep that the statistics make a good argument for needle exchanges where IV drug users can get clean syringes instead of sharing dirty ones and transmitting diseases such as hepatitis or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

There is also a financial argument, Estep notes: “One course of the drug needed to treat hepatitis C costs more than
$80,000, and the lifetime cost of treating HIV can be hundreds of
thousands of dollars, health officials said. Hepatitis C is the top cause of expensive liver transplants, according to the CDC.”

Estep reports, “Most
people with hepatitis C don’t have physical symptoms, but of every 100
people infected with the virus, 70 or more will develop chronic liver
disease and as many as five will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer, according to a CDC fact sheet. . . . The agency said people born between 1945 and 1965 should talk with a
doctor about being tested for hepatitis C, and that people with risk
factors such as IV drug use should be tested. It also recommends that health care providers assess all pregnant women for risk factors and test those who might be at risk.”

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