A recent study indicates Oklahoma ranked second in the nation for prevalence of Hepatitis C (HCV). Health officials believe significant contributing factors are injection drug use being seen in the state’s opioid epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with several universities, analyzed data gathered during a national survey conducted from 2013-2016 as well as other studies used to estimate the number of Americans living with HCV. There are approximately 2.4 million adults estimated to be living with HCV in the United States, with Oklahoma estimated to rank second at 1.82 per 100 population, behind only the District of Columbia at 2.34 per 100 population. In addition to this study, data collected by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and other state public health officials indicate the number of new cases of HCV is on the rise. The CDC estimates more than 41,000 Americans were newly infected in 2016 alone.
A major contributing factor to the high occurrence of HCV is the sharing or re-using of needles when using injection drugs such as opioids. Opioid injection and HCV increased dramatically in younger Americans from 2004-2014. Among people aged 18-29, HCV increased by 400 percent, and admission for opioid injection by 622 percent. Those aged 30-39 saw an increase of HCV by 325 percent, and admission for opioid injection by 83 percent. It is important for those who use injection drugs to understand their increased risk of contracting HCV through shared needles.
“Far too many individuals are unaware of their risk of infection and importance to get tested,” said Kristen Eberly, director of the OSDH HIV/STD Service. “Although the ongoing opioid epidemic has contributed to recent increases in HCV infections among adults under age 40, it’s also important for Oklahomans to understand hepatitis C poses a serious health concern for people of all ages, including infants born to infected mothers.”
Baby boomers also account for a large portion of chronic HCV infections. Health officials recommend all adults born between 1945 and 1965 be tested at least once for HCV. Testing is also recommended for anyone who may be at risk of contracting the virus through injection drug use.
“The numbers are sobering, but this challenge can be tackled if the right steps are taken,” said Interim OSDH Commissioner Tom Bates. “We recognize that there is a cost to providing help, but even though it might be expensive, it is not hopeless. There is a 90 percent cure rate with treatment. We urge everyone at risk to get tested now.”
The cure rate is improving and reducing the length of treatment from a year to three months. However, the wholesale treatment cost for new cases ranges from $417 to $1,125 per day.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus which can result in serious long-term health problems such as liver disease, liver failure, and even death. There is no vaccine to prevent the virus. The best way to prevent it is by avoiding behaviors known to spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. It can also be spread when getting tattoos or body piercings in unlicensed facilities with non-sterile instruments. The only way for a person to know if they have HCV is through a blood test from a health care provider.
For additional information, visit the OSDH HIV/STD website at hivstd.health.ok.gov. For assistance with finding local resources for opioid treatment, call 211. Additional information about drug overdoses is available at poison.health.ok.gov.