Hepatitis C is on the rise in West Virginia.
Between 2006 and 2012, critical cases of hepatitis C in West Virginia increased by 364 percent.
Dr. Zonaira Gul, infectious disease consultant at Beckley ARH Hospital, said 60 percent of new acute cases of the communicable disease are due to intravenous drug use.
“We’re facing a public health crisis because of injection drug use,” Dr. Gul shared Tuesday with a crowd of roughly 50 attendees at Beckley ARH’s Communicate: Hep C & HIV forum.
Gul was one of eight panelists who shared statistics, anecdotes and possible solutions to the growing problem in the Mountain State.
Nearly every speaker said an important step in curbing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C is establishing more needle exchange or harm reduction programs.
The second-to-last panelist, Candance Hurd, said a program is currently under development in Raleigh County.
Hurd, administrator of the Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department, said needle exchange will be one element of the comprehensive harm reduction program.
“This is not just about giving someone a clean needle, but working with the individual to overcome addiction.”
A major component of the program, Hurd said, will be encouraging participants to use long-acting contraceptives, so fewer children will be born drug exposed.
Not only is infant withdrawal a concern with pregnant mothers who use drugs, but also the potential to pass diseases along to the child.
Dr. Gul said West Virginia had the highest maternal hepatitis C infection rate in 2014, with 22.6 infections per 1,000 live births.
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