The CDC reported that Hepatitis C infections tripled between 2010 and 2015, and most of the infected are IV drug users.
"Recent CDC research has identified increasing injection drug use - tied to the U.S. opioid epidemic - in rural and suburban areas across the country", said Dr. John Ward, an author of the new report and director of the division of viral hepatitis at the CDC. The CDC received reports of 2,436 new cases in 2015, the most recent numbers available, up from 850 cases in 2010.
The CDC recommends screening at least once for anyone at risk of infection, which is mainly anyone that has been born between 1945 and 1965 when hepatitis C in blood samples were basically undiagnosed. Over the course of many years, the virus can cause liver damage resulting in cirrhosis, liver cancer, and sometimes death. The infection often produces no symptoms in its early stages, though it can lead to liver failure if left untreated.
Polk County is sponsoring free Hepatitis C screenings next week.
"They share needles or reuse needles or use found needles somewhere", said Dr. Ravi Vemuri, an infectious disease physician who has experienced the heroin epidemic firsthand. The highest rates were in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, despite a lack of increased funding for detecting new infections by the CDC during the years the survey was conducted. For example, around 19,000 people died of Hepatitis C in 2013.
And despite the existence of therapies that can cure more than 90 percent of infections, the organization says the disease remains a deadly threat. Those patients-in-waiting helped Gilead sell $12.49 billion of its hepatitis C pills in the U.S.in 2015, the biggest new drug introduction in history.
Glass said he sees recovering addicts with hepatitis C in his halfway house every single day. The virus is mostly spread by sharing needles to inject drugs.
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"We found substantial state-to-state variation in hepatitis C infection rates", Patrick said.
In Wisconsin, cases of acute Hepatitis C have skyrocketed, going up 450 percent from 2011 to 2015.
Some children have been known to clear the virus on their own.
"I mean probably a third of our clientele know they have hepatitis C. Probably a third more haven't been diagnosed", he said.
It's a problem experts describe as a "dual epidemic" because it's directly tied to opioids such as heroin.
The researchers say limited access to HCV prevention and treatment services that stop transmission has also contributed to the surge in cases.
He is director of the agency's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.