The Rise in Hepatitis C Incidences, Opioid Epidemic


The recent rise in hepatitis C cases in pregnant women and young people warrants further study.

According to Rick Davis, PA-C, the recent rise in hepatitis C cases in pregnant women and young people “is a really disturbing finding.”

Davis explained that the prevalence of hepatitis C was really decreasing quite a bit through 2010, and since 2010 it’s starting to rise again, particularly in a young population and frequently in women in rural areas.

Davis believes it is part of the opioid epidemic. “Generally these are people who were treated with opioid narcotics for acute pain, they became addicted to those medications, and nobody would then refill them or treat the addiction to get them off of those medications.” He pointed out that many of these people were under or uninsured as young people and resorted to using heroin — much less expensive, more readily available on the street, and injectable.

Education is crucial, said Davis, particularly because the young population that’s getting infected often doesn’t know about the risk factors. He also noted that some young women in this group are becoming pregnant while they’re still using, thus increasing the chance of passing the infection from mother to baby generally at birth. “It’s a real public health problem, but it’s complicated because there’s a bit of pushback, no one wants to introduce needle exchange programs in some very rural areas. Inner city clinics usually have these programs available, but I think this is an area in regions of the country too that don’t have a lot of support, and a lot of it is education about this population, too,” Davis said.

Davis also believed that this recent spike in hepatitis C incidences could absolutely affect the prediction experts had of eradicating the virus by 2030. He stressed that if people are not simultaneously addressing the opioid epidemic, the issue will continue, along with the risk of HIV infection as well and other infectious diseases related to injection drug use.

“The treatment for hepatitis C is so good and very effective that we’re able to clear this virus with medications that have very few side effects and for a fairly short period of time. There are programs available to help fund these, so we just need to identify the patients who are infected with hepatitis C and get that linkage to care and cure.”

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