Opioid Epidemic Leads To Jump In Hepatitis C Cases In Young People

May 23, 2017

One result of the opioid epidemic is that cases of hepatitis C are way up. The highest rate of new infections is among 20-somethings. In the past, it was primarily baby boomers who were being treated for the blood-borne disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported new hepatitis C infections in the U.S. nearly tripled between 2010 and 2015. Dr. Blaire Burman, Director of Virginia Mason Medical Center’s hepatitis C clinic in Seattle, says her clinic used to treat mostly baby boomers, but  is now seeing a younger demographic.

“We definitely see patients in their early teens who are injecting and found to be positive, but probably the biggest rise is in the 20 to 30 age group,” Burman said.

She says as IV drug use rates in Seattle and Washington state have risen; so have the number of hepatitis C cases.

Burman says the challenge is convincing young people they need to get tested if they’re shooting up drugs. She says they often don’t see the urgency because they know hepatitis C is curable. But she says if the disease is left untreated it can lead to permanent liver damage and death.

“They don’t seem that concerned about hep C whereas people in the older age group kind of know that hep c can cause cirrhosis and there’s a big stigma attached to that,” Burman said.

To get a handle on just how widespread hepatitis C is in the younger population Virginia Mason Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center are teaming up to identify patients with hepatitis C who come through the emergency rooms. A three-year grant will be used to conduct the study.