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Youths Fueling a Rise in Hepatitis C

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Driving up the rate of new Hepatitis C infections, intravenous drug use is gaining popularity with today’s younger generation.

An estimated four million Americans are currently infected with Hepatitis C, a viral infection of the liver that often leads to chronic liver disease. Making it a leading public health concern, chronic Hepatitis C is difficult to treat and can have devastating health consequences. An increase in awareness and testing for Hepatitis C had been responsible for a decline in new infections; however, an alarming new trend is behind a rise in newly acquired cases.

About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is spread via blood-to-blood contact, just like the well-known illness HIV – the virus that causes AIDS. Despite being spread the same way, few realize that the Hepatitis C virus is approximately 7 times more infectious than HIV. What makes Hepatitis C especially insidious is that most people don’t have any symptoms for years after becoming infected.

Because it is difficult for the body to clear the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), about 85 percent of those infected develop chronic liver disease. As is the case with any type of chronic liver disease, chronic Hepatitis C progressively damages the liver. When vague symptoms like fatigue and abdominal pain finally do appear, the disease has likely already caused serious, perhaps irreversible, damage to the liver.

Although there are potentially dozens of vehicles for transmitting this virus, the primary ways Hepatitis C is transmitted are from blood transfusions prior to 1992 and the sharing of intravenous needles. Since testing of the blood supply now screens for Hepatitis C, intravenous drug use is believed to be the number one cause of new Hepatitis C infections.

Intravenous Drug Use Swell

Unfortunately, intravenous drug use appears to be the culprit of a recent surge of new Hepatitis C infections. A report written by a team from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health was recently released through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this matter.

The researchers reported the following: “Of cases with available risk data, injection drug use was the most common risk factor for HCV transmission… The increase in case reports appear to represent an epidemic of HCV infection related to IDU (injected drug use) among new populations of adolescents and young adults in Massachusetts.”

The researchers were able to connect the increase in Hepatitis C cases to a rise in the use of heroin and other injected drugs in Massachusetts. Although this report was isolated to Massachusetts youth, other states also appear to be affected. Law enforcement reports from officials in the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, New England, New York/New Jersey, Southeast, and West Central regions also suggests that heroin use is increasing, particularly among younger users.

The Centers for Disease Control said that it had been documenting cases of HCV for decades, but it called the recent epidemic among adolescents and young adults and its apparent link to intravenous drug use “a disturbing trend.” They said the study suggested the need for better monitoring of Hepatitis C infection and better prevention efforts targeting adolescents and young adults.

As the most common intravenously administered drug, heroin’s availability and affordability likely play a role in its resurgence. Heroin is considered to be the most dangerous of narcotics. While it was once considered to be an exclusive, hard-core drug, its low cost is now landing heroin on college campuses, high schools and in many of our city’s suburbs. In some cases, heroin can be cheaper than buying a six pack of beer.

Current attempts to educate our youth on the perils of heroin, intravenous drug use and Hepatitis C all appear to be insufficient. There will be a backlash from the rise in youth choosing to inject heroin, and Hepatitis C infection represents just one of those repercussions. Until the heroin problem is widely recognized and everyone is talking with their children about the many dangers of intravenous drug administration, there is little hope for ending our nation’s long-fought battle against Hepatitis C.

References:

http://atlantarecoverycenter.com/drugs-of-abuse/heroin/, Heroin, Retrieved May 8, 2011, Narcanon, Inc., 2011.

http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2011/05/05/young-people-heroin-use-skyrocketing-in-md-suburbs/, More Young People Using Heroin in Md Suburbs, Retrieved May 8, 2011, CBS LocalMedia, 2011.

http://hometestingblog.testcountry.com/?p=13065, Increase in Hepatitis C Cases in Massachusetts Linked to Drug Use, Retrieved May 8, 2011, testcountry.com, 2011.

http://northernstar.info/city/article_9962e9e6-42eb-11e0-a11f-00127992bc8b.html, Heroin Becoming More Popular in Suburbs, Police, May 8, 2011, Northern Star Online, 2011.

http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/heroin/heroin_faq.shtml, Heroin Frequently Asked Questions, Retrieved May 8, 2011, Erowid.org, 2011.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/06/us-hepatitis-massachusetts-idUSTRE7454WU20110506, Hepatitis C Cases Rising Among Massachusetts Youth, Retrieved May 8, 2011, Thomson Reuters, 2011.

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