Oct. 25 (UPI) -- A study by Brown University described gaps in care for young opioid users at risk for hepatitis C.
The study found it's much less common for young opioid users to receive hepatitis C care than it is for them to get screened for the disease. Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges from mild to serious and lifelong. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 30,500 cases of acute hepatitis C in the United States in 2014 and there are an estimated 2.7 to 3.9 million people living with chronic hepatitis C in the United States.
A CDC study in 2015 showed that rates of hepatitis C more than tripled in Appalachian states that included rural areas of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee, where rates of hepatitis C infection increased by 364 percent between 2006 and 2012.
For the current study, researchers found that between January 2015 and February 2016, 78.6 percent of the 196 young adults ages 18 to 29 in the study who used opioids recreationally in Rhode Island reported getting HCV screening. Of those who were screened, 18 tested positive for HCV. Of the participants who tested positive, 13 had a follow-up test to confirm the diagnosis, 12 were referred to specialists, 10 received information on protecting others from contacting the disease and nine received education on how to live with the disease.
"Many young people who are at risk for hepatitis C may acquire the infection and then not know it, and then through drug injection practices may transmit it to others," Brandon Marshall, associate professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a press release. "For this reason, we need to not only be screening, but also providing care to young people who test positive for hepatitis C."
The study was published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"Screening for HCV is free in many parts of the state, but financial and other barriers exist for youth who test positive and are in need of additional resources and hepatitis C care," Marshall said. "We need to work on improving access to hepatitis C treatment programs and other referral services for young people."