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Rise In Hepatitis C Cases May Be Linked To Opioid Use

First Posted: May 12, 2017 05:44 AM EDT
New England Towns Struggle With Opioid And Heroin Epidemic
A drug user takes a needle before injecting himself with heroin on March 23, 2016 in New London, CT. Communities throughout New England and nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic.
(Photo : John Moore/Getty Images)

In the years between 2010 and 2015, scientists and medical health professionals noted the skyrocketing cases of hepatitis C virus infections. In fact, during these years, the number of cases was said to have tripled: from 850 in 2010 to 2,436 in 2015.

According to CNN, the highest rates of those infected were of young people between the ages 20 and 29, most of whom inject drugs. Despite the high numbers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of infected individuals to be much higher -- about 34,000 new cases in 2015. These numbers have not been taken into an official account. However, it is because hepatitis C has few symptoms and newly infected people do not get diagnosed immediately.

Hepatitis C killed about 20,000 Americans in 2015, making it the most fatal infectious disease tracked by the CDC. It can be contracted through injected blood or by using contaminated needles.

The fact that contaminated needles are among the causes of hepatitis C infections leads many to believe that the opioid epidemic is somehow linked to the rise in cases. Dr. John Ward, author of the new report from the CDC, said that research "identified increasing injection drug use -- tied to the US opioid epidemic -- in rural and suburban areas across the country."

However, it is not only drug users that can be infected. Live Science noted that most of those who are already infected with hepatitis C in the United States are baby boomers (ages 52 to 72). They are at six times more likely to be infected with the virus than the younger generations. Another trend also became noticeable in women of child-bearing age. This then increases the risk of infants being infected as well.

Hepatitis C is being kept track due to the dangers it poses on those infected. It can lead to liver cancer or liver failure. While there are now drugs that can cure people of the disease, they remain very expensive, making it difficult for most to get access to them, especially during the early stages of the disease.

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