|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chart shows hepatitis C rates for Kentucky and U.S.|
In 2011, the hepatitis C infection rate among Kentucky women aged 15-44 was 275 per 100,000. In 2011, it was 862 per 100,000 -- an increase of 213 percent. The national increase during the period was only 22 percent.
The CDC highlighted Kentucky because "the state had the highest incidence of acute hepatitis C infections from 2011 through 2014," Estep reports. "The report found that the rate of infants born to women diagnosed with hepatitis C went up 124 percent in Kentucky in that time."
But those numbers likely understate the problem, Estep notes: "The figures were based on data from a large commercial laboratory called Quest Diagnostics and birth certificates. The report said that having to rely on data from one lab means the figures might not represent the reality across the country or in Kentucky. The numbers for Kentucky are likely low, the report said. Official figures for 2015 are not yet available. However, health department officials said early indications suggest the trend will continue for 2015."
Health officials also told Estep that the statistics make a good argument for needle exchanges where IV drug users can get clean syringes instead of sharing dirty ones and transmitting diseases such as hepatitis or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
There is also a financial argument, Estep notes: "One course of the drug needed to treat hepatitis C costs more than $80,000, and the lifetime cost of treating HIV can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, health officials said. Hepatitis C is the top cause of expensive liver transplants, according to the CDC."
Estep reports, "Most people with hepatitis C don’t have physical symptoms, but of every 100 people infected with the virus, 70 or more will develop chronic liver disease and as many as five will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer, according to a CDC fact sheet. . . . The agency said people born between 1945 and 1965 should talk with a doctor about being tested for hepatitis C, and that people with risk factors such as IV drug use should be tested. It also recommends that health care providers assess all pregnant women for risk factors and test those who might be at risk."