Rise in Hepatitis C linked to heroin use in St Louis County, state

By KBJR News 1

March 5, 2014 Updated Mar 5, 2014 at 8:14 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)--- Dirty needles are to blame for a rising trend in hepatitis C cases in southern St Louis County, that has officials calling the trend a "public health crisis."

The most common risk factor for hepatitis C is injected drug use, and officials say that more heroin users are contracting the potentially fatal disease.

The disease is a blood-borne pathogen and is most commonly spread by users sharing needles.

According to the St Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department, one third of people who use injection drugs will be infected with hepatitis C early on.

Seventy to ninety percent of people who use injection drugs for a long time will also become infected.

Amy Westbrook, St Louis County Public Health Division Director says many cases probably go undiagnosed because Hepatitis C is generally asymptomatic for years.

There is no cure for the disease and it is being called an epidemic.

"Hepatitis C can develop into cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer down the road can even result in death, so it can be a very debilitating illness. There is treatment available , treatment is not always effective, but it's a significant public health issue," said Amy Westbrook, St Louis County Public Health Division Director.

The St Louis County Public Health Department has seen an increase in hepatitis C for the first time in people people between the ages of 15 to 29.

Generally the median age is 50 year olds.

Written and posted to the web by Raeanna Marnati
rmarnati@kbjr.com

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