Experts say the opioid epidemic is putting people at risk for Hepatitis C infections

Updated: Jun. 17, 2019 at 10:20 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly 2.4 million Americans live with Hepatitis C. Studies show there’s a link between the infectious disease and the opioid epidemic. In South Carolina, the number of diagnosed cases has gone up since 2010.

Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through injection drug use. The CDC reports in 2012, there were around 3,300 cases of Hepatitis C in the Palmetto State. That number nearly doubled in 2018 with a little over 6,400 cases of chronic Hepatitis C, with the rate of approximately 127 per 100,000 people.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reports in 2018, the rate of chronic Hepatitis C infection was 198 per 100,000 people in Horry County.

Experts say those at highest risk for Hepatitis C infection are IV drug users and the baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965. It’s a viral illness that infects the liver and studies show it's responsible for more deaths in the U.S. than any other infectious disease.

It’s often called the “silent killer,” as many people are unaware of their infections until serious liver problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer arise. Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and jaundice.

Experts say a number of people who are living with Hepatitis C aren't aware of any major symptoms. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor about your risk factors.

Dr. Paul Richardson, the chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center, says being unaware that you have the disease can cause ongoing liver damage.

Another reason medical experts believe there's higher numbers of Hepatitis C infections is it's not a vaccine preventable disease.

“ I think part of the reason we also see greater numbers of Hepatitis C infections is that there is no vaccine available for Hepatitis C, whereas there’s been a vaccine developed for Hepatitis B that children get as soon as they’re born, and there’s an effective vaccine also available for Hepatitis A," said Jonathan Knoche, medical consultant for the division of acute disease epidemiology at SCDHEC.

However there is a cure, and medical experts say there’s been some great advancements for treating Hepatitis C and the cure rate is now more than 90%. Experts say it’s important for those at most risk of the virus to get screened.

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