Injection drug use is contributing to the rise in hepatitis C infection.
As local and national headlines focus on the opioid crisis and the deaths related to the epidemic, there is an overlooked and devastating virus spread in correlation with opioid abuse and injection drug users, especially in the Appalachia region.
Hepatitis C is a virus transmitted via the blood of the infected individual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted by injection drug use.
Many of the new cases of hepatitis C in Appalachia are individuals younger than 30 years who report intravenous drug use and opioid dependency. Initiatives to reduce transmission of the virus, such as required screenings, need to be a priority for Tennessee.
Hepatitis C is often called a “silent killer.” There are very few symptoms associated with the virus until long-term complications emerge such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Persons infected with the virus, unaware of their status, unknowingly transmit the virus. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, more than 100,000 individuals may be living with the virus in Tennessee.
Acute cases of hepatitis C doubled from 2011 to 2015 in Tennessee based on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthcare costs for individuals diagnosed with the virus are rising and will continue to rise as more individuals are infected with the virus.
According to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the cost of hepatitis C in American in 2015 increased to $21 billion.
As a nurse practitioner, I have seen the devastation from infection of the virus. Current guidelines for healthcare providers recommend screening for hepatitis C virus in individuals born between 1945-1965 and those considered high risk for infection (such as intravenous drug users).
Tennessee does not have any current legislation requiring healthcare providers to offer screenings based on the guidelines. States who have passed laws requiring healthcare providers to offer screenings have seen over a 50% increase in testing for the virus.
By requiring healthcare providers to offer screenings based on the guidelines, more individuals are aware of their status.
Measures to prevent the spread of the virus can be instituted by those infected thus reducing transmission. Major insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid cover the costs of screening.
For individuals who do not have health insurance coverage, the cost of the test is relatively low. Since most healthcare providers are aware of the recommendations, implementation the required screening could be immediate, with a noticeable reduction in transmission rates within a few years.
Opponents to required screenings cite issues with time required for counseling and perceived stigma associated with hepatitis C virus as barriers to implementation.
Successful screening initiatives may result in limited specialty providers and financial resources to meet the treatment demand. Not all individuals diagnosed with hepatitis C will seek treatment or be a candidate for treatment.
Read full article: Hepatitis C is emerging health crisis related to opioid addiction
|Read Full Article: Hepatitis C is emerging health crisis related to opioid addiction|