Hep C and drug abuse often go hand in hand, but screening for infection lags

As the number of people who inject drugs has soared, the rate of hepatitis C infection has climbed steeply, too

Published December 22, 2018 1:30PM (EST)


This article originally appeared on Kaiser Health News.

When people seek help at a drug treatment center for an opioid addiction, concerns about having contracted hepatitis C are generally low on their list.

They’ve often reached a crisis point in their lives, said Marie Sutton, the CEO of Imagine Hope, a consulting group that provides staff training and technical assistance to facilitate testing for the liver-damaging virus at more than 30 drug treatment centers in Georgia.

“They just want to handle [their drug problem],” she said. “Sometimes they don’t have the bandwidth to take on too many other things.”

Even though health care facilities that serve people who use drugs are well-positioned to initiate screening, too often that is not happening, recent studies have shown. Not testing these patients for hepatitis C is an enormous missed opportunity, public health experts agree.

“It’s a disease that can be cured the moment we identify somebody,” said Tom Nealon, president and CEO of the American Liver Foundation. “Not testing is incomprehensible when you look at what hepatitis C does to their bodies and their livers.”

As the number of people who inject drugs has soared, the rate of hepatitis C infection, frequently tied to sharing needles, has climbed steeply, too.

People who are infected with hepatitis C can go for years without symptoms, so they may not have any inkling that they’re sick. That delayed onset makes screening important, advocates say, since people may unwittingly infect others.

By Michelle Andrews

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