Hepatitis C cases on rise from intravenous drug use, expensive treatments
The most common bloodborne infection in the U.S. is the hepatitis C virus and new data suggests it's spreading among young Alaskans.
It used to affect mostly baby boomers, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but new data suggests since 2010 the number of HCV cases has risen drastically in young adults because of intravenous drug use.
The CDC estimates about half of people who are IV drug users in the U.S. have the disease. HCV is mainly spread through contact with infected blood. People who share needles are also at very high risk.
In Alaska from 2015-2018, the average annual record of newly reported cases was 107 for every 100,000 persons, according to a bulletin released from the Alaska Section of Epidemiology.
"In recent years, rates have been highest among younger adults," the bulletin from Wednesday reads.
In 2016, nearly 20,000 people in the U.S. died from HCV, according to data from the CDC, which is why treatment in the acute phase is important.
Most infected people are unaware they have been infected since the symptoms are mild. Common symptoms include fever, fatigue, dark urine, clay-colored stool, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, or yellowing of the skin. The onset of symptoms usually occurs at 2–12 weeks after exposure.
People with untreated chronic HCV or advanced HVC are at a higher risk for hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma and liver transplantation.
There is no vaccine for HCV, the only way to reduce the rate of infection is to decrease transmission, the bulletin states. This would entail people getting more testing, community syringe service programs and screening blood at healthcare centers.
Some treatments including direct-acting antiviral therapy can greatly improve HCV cure rates more effectively than treatments used in the past.
However, these treatments are very expensive making them less accessible to anyone infected who can't afford the direct-acting antiviral therapies. Costs for these drugs can range anywhere from $25,000-$100,000 for a course of treatment. Some drug companies offer medication assistance, but many patients don't qualify or can't get to facilities for treatment.
Alaska Medicaid has implemented several initiatives to address HCV.
During fiscal year 2018, Alaska Medicaid’s Drug Utilization Review Committee approved a less-costly, shorter treatment plan for HCV patients. This saved $3.6 million while treating 60% more people than in years prior, according to the Wednesday bulletin. The Alaska Department of Corrections is helping by testing and treating inmates while they are in jail.
More information on HCV, treatment options and resources is available on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website.
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