Experts suspect drug use might be behind surge of hepatitis C cases

Health officials are investigating an increase in reported cases of the liver disease hepatitis C among young people in Park County, with evidence suggesting that needle sharing among intravenous drug users might be to blame.

The probe came after 56 new reports of hepatitis C [virus] infections were logged in the county in 2012, a figure that exceeds the state average and is about double the number of the year before, The Powell Tribune reported last week.

Nearly 40 percent of the 2012 reports came from the Powell area and the remaining number from around Cody, said Ashley Grajczyk, viral hepatitis prevention coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Health. The spike in the disease, which is transmitted by blood, involved people [aged] from 20 to 34. It’s possible some of the new reports involved people who have moved into Park County for substance-abuse treatment, but officials say they don’t know how much that has contributed.

Grajczyk said the county’s rate has been rising since 2008. Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton and Grajczyk spoke at a recent meeting of the Park County Health Coalition in Powell. They were looking for ideas on how to stop the spread of the disease and how to help those already infected. “We’re talking about hepatitis C here, but in reality, it is at-risk kids, 15 to 30, who are doing all kinds of things that maybe we don’t want to acknowledge or that we know about but don’t know what to do about,” Crampton said.

The Department of Health and Public Health spearheaded a campaign in May 2013 to raise awareness of the problem. It hung posters around the county warning people that if they’re injecting drugs, they may be at risk for communicable diseases and hepatitis.

“Hepatitis C is for life. You can put it into remission. You can live with it. You can live a full and healthy life,” Crampton said at the meeting. “But you may need treatment for some of these folks that will bear hepatitis C badly, and how do we assist them?”

In the initial stages, infected people are unlikely to display symptoms. But once the infection progresses over several years, a person may have elevated liver enzymes and feel joint pain, fatigue, and chronic abdominal pain. Liver damage or cancer can result from the disease. Some people can die from an infection, Grajczyk said.

Treatment of hepatitis C is expensive, and Grajczyk said many of the people infected lack adequate insurance.



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