Hepatitis C Infections Soaring in Kentucky and Neighboring States, Fueled by Prescription Painkiller Abuse

CDCAccording to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of hepatitis C infections more than tripled in Kentucky and three other Appalachian states from 2006 to 2012, fueled by prescription drug abuse among those who inject drugs. Rates of hepatitis C virus infection are rising nationwide, the CDC said, with the biggest increases seen among people under age 30 living in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. In those four states alone, hepatitis C infections rose 364 percent from 2006 to 2012, with nearly half (44.8 percent) among people under age 30.

The agency said the findings highlight the need for testing for hepatitis C, care and treatment services within substance abuse treatment centers, according to a report by the Reuters news service. “We’re in the midst of a national epidemic of hepatitis C,” said John Ward, director of viral hepatitis prevention at the CDC, in a USA Today article. “The CDC views hepatitis C as an urgent public health problem.”

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver infection spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. About 3 million Americans are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, according to the CDC, and many people are infected without knowing it. Chronic infections can cause liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death.