Healthcast : Research on Hepatitis C Infections in Pregnant Women

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The heroin epidemic is driving up hepatitis C infections, with the biggest increase in people in their 20s, US health officials said Thursday.

In 2015, the national reported rate of hepatitis C was 0.8 per 100,000 persons with almost 34,000 new infections, according to the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 294 percent spike in hepatitis C infections from 2010 to 2015 is "largely attributed to injection drug use", like the increased use of heroin, according to the researchers.

America's heroin epidemic is driving a surge in hepatitis C cases across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.

There are believed to be between 2.7 million and 3.9 million people in the US with a chronic case of hepatitis C, a viral infection that leads to inflammation of the liver, responsible for an estimated 19,659 deaths in 2014. The infection often produces no symptoms in its early stages, though it can lead to liver failure if left untreated. Acute hepatitis C, which begins within six months of exposure, can move into a long-lasting stage, chronic hepatitis C. To this end, the CDC is calling for approaches that will tackle two epidemics: opioid addiction and infectious diseases associated with injection drug use.

The states that have been hit the hardest by the ongoing drug problem appeared to have the worst rates in Hepatitis C cases. In 2014, the highest infection rate - 22.6 per 1,000 live births - was in West Virginia, while Tennessee had 10.1 per 1,000.

Hepatitis C is one of the leading infectious disease killers.

And despite the existence of therapies that can cure more than 90 percent of infections, the organization says the disease remains a deadly threat.

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Infants can't be screened for Hepatitis C at birth because they still have a lot of their mom's antibodies so they have to be tracked, said Patrick, who was co-author of the study.

The findings indicate that women of childbearing age need access to hepatitis C testing and treatment, said study senior author Dr. Carolyn Wester.

Patrick agreed, noting that women who know they have the virus before pregnancy can be treated to hopefully clear the virus prior to becoming pregnant.

TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, M.D., said the study is an important reminder of the threat of this growing epidemic to high-risk populations throughout the U.S.

According to CNN, the highest rates of those infected were of young people between the ages 20 and 29, most of whom inject drugs. About 3.5 million people, mostly over 55, are infected.

There is no vaccine for HCV, but there are treatments that can cure HCV infection.

To decide whether a state had comprehensive needle laws, the CDC explored five questions: Did the state explicitly authorize a needle exchange program?